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Tiny ‘Zombies’ Rising from the Tundra

Dec 14, 2018 | 764 videos
Video by David Freid

“There are several things about Longyearbyen that may seem ‘strange’ to visitors,” warns the Norwegian city’s tourist board. One of the northernmost settlements in the world, Longyearbyen, which is on the island of Svalbard, is home to 2,100 residents from almost 50 countries—most of whom weren’t born there.


“This is not a place people spend their entire lives or where families are continued through generations,” the Longyearbyen website continues. “People have generally come and gone … The history of Svalbard is rich in tragic events, and graves are the most common relics of culture.”


But for more than 70 years, not a single person has been buried in Longyearbyen. That’s due to the region’s year-round sub-zero temperatures: Bodies don’t decompose, but are preserved, as if mummified, in the permafrost. Should anyone die there, the government of Svalbard requires that the body is flown or shipped to mainland Norway to be interred.


“It’s kind of nuts to live there, but that’s part of the appeal,” filmmaker David Freid told The Atlantic. Freid visited the region in 2016 and was so taken by its otherworldliness that he decided to make a short documentary. Nobody Dies in Longyearbyen follows Freid on a journey to investigate the rumor that it’s not only illegal to be buried in Longyearbyen, but also that it’s illegal to die there. He finds that the local lore stems from very real archaeological and epidemiological concerns.


As Freid says at the end of the film: “Perhaps some contagions will arise from the permafrost, like tiny zombies returning from a long nap.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.