By Erica Flock, EarthShare Online Manager
This summer, news outlets grimly reported that the Arctic saw the most extensive ice loss ever. While the data is harrowing in itself, Director Jeff Orlowski’s new film, Chasing Ice, provides something the numbers and words of climate change do not: a visceral punch to the gut.
The film presents this reality through the eyes of geologist and environmental photographer, James Balog. Balog is overcome by the fact that glaciers are melting faster than he can photograph them. He decides to capture this geologic vanishing act by setting up time-lapse cameras all over the Arctic.
Much of the story follows him and his small team of intrepid engineers and scientists who battle hostile weather and terrain, ailments and technical glitches to set up the cameras as part of a project called the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS).
Although the human drama of undertaking the EIS is interesting, the most intriguing characters of the film are the glaciers themselves.
Stunning views of turquoise rivers running with ice melt, a field of sea punctuated with icebergs arching in strange and elegant shapes into the sky, jaw-dropping nighttime shots of ice boulders illuminated against a popped starscape and glittery carpets of snow: this is some of the most incredible “nature” photography you will ever see.
But there is a kind of horror in this landscape too, as Balog says, for it’s here that the planet is warning us about the sudden impacts of an atmosphere overloaded with greenhouse gasses.
In one shocking scene, Balog’s video cameras capture an iceberg the size of Manhattan “calving” (or breaking off from) the main glacier, twisting violently in the frigid Arctic water as it loosens itself. The cracking and booming sounds of the fissure are enough to set tiny human hearts racing: nature’s power is not to be toyed with.
Through the film runs a thread of loss that lends it an almost funerary air. When I saw it in the theater, no one made a move from their seats during the closing credits and when the screen finally went to black, patrons shuffled out without a word.
Chasing Ice reaches something deeper than the brain. In capturing one of the most desolate regions of our planet, it manages to ask what it means to be a human today; what it means to be on the precipice of unprecedented global changes of our own creation.