Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice

****

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Compiling the results of years of attempts by National Geographic photographer and researcher James Balog to capture the actual motion of climate change on screen, it is hard to argue that Chasing Ice isn't essential viewing (assuming you have no problem with the science of climate change). There is something inherently powerful about seeing on screen what has only been described in the abstract in academic studies and in the papers.

Balog is the mind behind the Extreme Ice Survey, a team of researchers tasked with setting up dozens of cameras in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana that can be left alone to automatically photograph major glaciers and ice formations throughout the year. This technique can document the melting of the ice in a way that can be presented visually, in one document. Perhaps it is the one thing missing from the climate change debate, a debate Balog is clearly frustrated to see is still going on when it should be 'case closed'.

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Following the team, filmmaker Jeff Orlowski takes us through the early stages of Balog's project, as he struggles to rig and repair the camera equipment in the face of terrible weather and near-overwhelming frustrations of technical failure. Simply getting to the camera locations often involves Balog trekking or canoeing over vast and mysterious landscapes of sea, snow and rock. But we also get to see the beautiful and terrifying pay off: the time-lapsed footage of years of glacial retreat compacted into minutes of screentime.

Among the most awe-inspiring sequences of the captured footage is that of the 'ice calving'- where vast glacial sheets in Greenland tear apart amid a roiling, roaring sea of ice and water that, according to measurements, is the equivalent of watching Manhattan turn in on itself. Later in the film the camera also follows Balog as he takes this footage global, giving presentations in which his time-lapse movies illustrate the scale of what is happening. The arguments are persuasive, and Balog is a charismatic presence at all times.

With stunning footage matched up to powerful scientific footage and a straightforward no-frills approach to the hard data, Chasing Ice is stunning to look at, though somewhat workmanlike in its overall execution outside of the glacier footage. Overall though, it doesn't really put a foot wrong.

Reviewed on: 01 May 2012
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Time-lapse photography of glaciers over several years providing tangible visual evidence of climate change.
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Director: Jeff Orlowski

Writer: Mark Monroe

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

Year: 2012

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: US


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