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Chasing Ice

2012 | 76 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1

Chasing Ice


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Theatrical release date

 09 November, 2012
 14 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Chasing Ice Blu-ray

Chasing Ice Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, December 6, 2012

Bring up climate change in a crowded room and a fight is likely to break out. It’s a controversial subject that raises the ire of those passionately involved with educational efforts and individuals out to dispel the notion of such a global event. Sensing an impasse on the issue, environmental photographer James Balog decided to document the shift himself, traveling to the far reaches of Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska to capture unprecedented glacier melt with a multitude of cameras, hoping to create unforgettable time-lapse shots that might convince those still wary about the climate reality facing our planet that something needs to be done.

Balog’s big idea was called the Extreme Ice Survey, founded in 2007 to combat the growing hullabaloo surrounding climate change. A longtime artist and admirer of the natural world, Balog hunted for a way to capture planetary disruptions occurring in a dramatic manner, thus securing enough initial evidence to encourage a more positive conversation about the global topic, blended with a little shock value to hold attention. Turning to the plight of Earth’s glaciers, Balog formed a plan of photography, constructing a fleet of cameras programmed to take thousands of pictures over the year, documenting the melt as it occurs piece by piece, watching as mighty glaciers are reduced to a floating sea of ice blocks.

Of course, where to place these cameras was a primary concern, with Balog’s team selecting Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, and Montana as positions of observance, requiring an impressive amount of hiking over harsh terrain to reach the glaciers in need of consideration. Armed with appropriate gear and an adventurous attitude, the collection of experts and assistants hit the snow and mountains, seeking secure areas to place the cameras while Balog snapped away on his own, building his impressive collection of arctic photography, taking in the beauty of the great white and blue expanse.

As to be expected with such a risky endeavor, troubles come calling, including camera malfunctions that drive Balog to tears, watching as a year of work is flushed down the tubes due to wildlife curiosity and power failures. However, this is not a man who takes adversity lightly, soon reorganizing and returning to the glaciers with better equipment, more determined than ever to complete his task.

Director Jeff Orlowski isolates the drive within Balog to detail the fall of the glaciers, which includes a general disregard for his personal health, enduring knee problems that require surgery, only to find the photographer out hiking soon after recovery, ruining all the careful medical work. It’s a cycle of pain Balog wears like a badge, forgoing limitations to achieve his desired footage, also encountering treacherous glacier chasms, helicopter malfunctions, and a general air of depression, studying the disheartening footage as it comes in. Balog’s a complex fellow with an intense drive to see E.I.S. succeed, trusting that his work will matter to a global community in dire need of tangible climate change evidence.

Despite its dire message about rising carbon dioxide levels polluting the Earth, “Chasing Ice” is a beautiful film, with stunning visits to snowy realms with deep blue water, while displaying the hypnotic act of ice calving, watching as chunks of glacier snap off larger formations and float away. There’s some truly amazing footage here that’s as frightening as it is amazing, while Orlowski maintains concentration on the message of the movie, hoping that all this disintegration and flashes of scientific data add up to an impactful documentary worthy of renewed discussion. For Balog, the mission is more direct, trusting his efforts to provide actual proof of global wreckage may stir up dedication to a larger cause of planetary protection. He refers to the glaciers as the “canary in a coal mine,” with today’s erosion suggesting catastrophe ahead for a world community in dire need of illumination.

Starring: James Balog, Svavar Jonatansson, Adam LeWinter
Director: Jeff Orlowski

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