For one hour and 16 minutes, a chunk of glacier that is larger than the size of Manhattan breaks off an ice sheet and floats in pieces into the ocean. Massive blocks of ice overturn, submerge and emerge in frozen waters, with resulting seismic booms echoing throughout the environment.
Though this image might sound like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, it is, in fact, real. The largest documented incident of calving — the process through which glaciers break off into smaller pieces — is just one of the terrifying, haunting images in the new film Chasing Ice.
Chasing Ice documents, over a period of several years, the conception and evolution of The Extreme Ice Survey, a program founded by James Balog, a noted environmental photographer. The program serves to record the changes wrought on glaciers by climate change. Photographs that 27 cameras took of changing glaciers over the course of several years, interviews, on-the-ground footage and data modeling undercut the film, creating an experience that incorporates multiple media.
Though critics might dismiss Chasing Ice as the latest addition to the ever-increasing arena of climate change films, Chasing Ice emerges from the pack as a film of astonishing beauty and timely commentary.
The movie begins with cuts of various political pundits and talking heads arguing about the reality of global warming. Each segment jumps to a different TV personality, with each shot increasing in its fervor and rhetoric.
And just when the speech has reached a fever pitch, the film cuts to serene shots of Balog in his natural element: photographing ice formations in some of the most surreal and beautiful places on Earth.
It is this introductory sequence that encompasses all that makes Chasing Ice a movie that surpasses all other climate change-oriented films. Chasing Ice doesn’t seek to bash the viewer over the head with statistics or doomsday predictions, nor does it seek to relentlessly attack other viewpoints.
Because of this, the film serves as a departure from the highly emotional, hyperbolic dialogue that has come to characterize the debate about climate change. Chasing Ice shifts its gaze to one man and his team, showing how the persistent dedication of a few can result in incredible discoveries and scientific advances.
The movie documents, with sensitivity and honesty, the struggles that come with striving to record environmental changes in some of the world’s harshest environments. It also depicts the fight against perpetual ignorance and disregard toward the consequences resulting from climate change.
Chasing Ice isn’t simply about global warming. It’s about one man’s dedication to a cause greater than himself, and to the passion that has defined his life’s work.
In the end, however, it is Balog’s photographs that do all the talking.
Glittering ice, deep shadows, jagged edges and curvaceous layers speak to the diversity of ice formations throughout the world and provide viewers an unprecedented look at landscapes that will never be seen again in history, as global warming takes an ever-increasing toll on glacial formations.
Stark black and white imagery of shattering ice, sepia-tinted photos of glacier erosion that go on for miles and color photographs of layered ice that touch upon all shades of blue present some of the most spectacular environmental photography in recent memory.
In fact, the film’s impact can best be seen through drastic changes in audience behavior during the photo montages. An audience that had been perpetually cheering and booing various political pundits and sound bites descended into deathly quiet during these montages. But the beauty and tragedy of these images went beyond political sentiments.
Only an awestruck, respectful silence could capture the impact of Balog’s photography on viewers, many of whom might not have seen such images before. Chasing Ice reveals alien environments that are worlds away from American daily life, yet remain linked with the environmental changes we see all around us.
The delicate connections that bind glacier movements thousands of miles away with the natural disasters that affect us in the United States slowly emerge as the film progresses, and remind us of the deeper connections people hold with the planet.
The realization of the scale of destruction that the world faces quietly emerges throughout the film, and the scope of damage comes as a shock to even Balog and his team. Images of attendees at Balog’s lectures, however, offer a degree of hope, from the look of horror across a child’s face to an interview with a former Shell employee who left his career because he was so affected by Balog’s work.
Chasing Ice should not be viewed as an excuse for inaction. It’s easy to lose hope when the mind-blowingly rapid pace of environmental degradation is laid out in front of you so clearly. But the viewpoint that all audiences should adopt can best be summed up in a response that the film’s director and producer, Jeff Orlowski, gave to an audience member during a Q & A after a Nov. 23 screening in West Los Angeles.
When asked if there was any hope for the world’s situation, Orlowski gave the analogy of an imminent car accident:
“If you’re driving a car, and you notice you’re about to crash into the car in front of you, you don’t just let it happen. You slam on the brakes. You know the accident will happen, but there is a difference in the amount of damage. Right now, the world has its foot on the accelerator, and it needs to step on the brakes.”
Chasing Ice began its run at the Nuart Theater on Nov. 23 and will continue until Nov. 29.