James Balog is an acclaimed environmental photographer. He was a global warming skeptic, who went looking for substantiation about climate change for a 2005 photo essay accredited by National Geographic. What he saw for himself made him begin the project called "Extreme Ice Survey" (EIS). Director Jeff Orlowski follows Balog's project from 2007, in Alaska, Iceland, Greenland and Montana in this beautiful and more realistic documentary "Chasing Ice" (2012).
People are divided up over the fact that human intervention could change the planet's sea levels and glacial ice packs. Balog says that "What they need is a believable, understandable piece of visual evidence, something that grabs 'em in the gut." So, he and his mountaineering scientist crew set up cameras capable of photographing glaciers continuously from their stationary vantage point. They have placed cameras all around Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and other icy regions.
Placing the camera is itself a suicide mission. They embed dozens of cameras into the rock walls above various ices mass -- most of them are the inhospitable places on Earth. The cameras are placed inside a protective box with an automatic timer. The time-lapse cameras take one image for an hour. When Balog's team of young scientists assembles the footage, they discover that glacier fields the size of Lower Manhattan are dropping off at an staggering rate.
The documentary is at times harrowing, when Balog's endeavors are threatened. He places the camera and returns six months later to find almost all had malfunctioned due to minor computer glitches. Frustrated and battered Balog slumps behind nonfunctional camera and weeps. He also puts his life at risk by ruling out his knee problems. His knees, abused by years of mountain climbing, resembles a bag of loose gravel.We see him daily at base camp bracing his battered legs. Balog's team has also faced huge risks by coping up with the vertiginous climbs over abysses, i.e. literally the height of danger.
Chasing Ice's most breathtaking moments are the stunning time-lapse photography of glaciers receding worldwide. These painstakingly captured images are presented as montages that proceed with a slight jerkiness but show the inexorable reduction of enormous ice blankets into mere patches of white. Documentaries with power-points, graphs and diagrams have always called for action, but this documentary lends a visual credence that there has been as much glacier reduction in the past decade as in the preceding century.
Orlowski has brought in "how" behind nature photography. He uses emotional, evocative imagery (at times he depicts Balog's inner conflicts) to illustrate the hard facts that ice is on the run and seas are on the rise. At a running time of 76 minutes, we are presented with otherworldly destinations that are practically godlike to look at. Are such chilling images enough to convince the naysayers? That's doubtful, but "Chasing Ice" makes a strong convincing case about climate change than the pictures told by words.
Chasing Ice -- IMDb
James Balog Photography