A hauntingly beautiful and subtly terrifying new movie out this month details photographer James Balog’s years-long, multi-camera journey to document climate change in the Arctic.
Chasing Ice seems to be as much about the National Geographic photographer and his journey as it is about melting ice and climate change. But in a sense, it’s a journey that anyone with questions about climate change embarks on.
From a starting point as a nonbeliever, Balog is converted by what he sees while on assignment for the New Yorker, according to the New York Observer. Struck by the sheer volume of ice melt, he returns to undertake what he dubs the Extreme Ice Survey.
The film, rich in imagery, tells a story of growing awareness, and it’s an awareness that Balog wants to impart to the rest of us. He observes melting Arctic glaciers firsthand and brings the images back to us—in some cases the only images of these majestic ice sheets, boulders and mountains that still exist.
“His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate,” the movie’s website says. “Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet.”
Directed by Jeff Orlowski, the documentary played last year at Sundance, where it won the Excellence in Cinematography Award. To shoot it, Balog set up more than 20 cameras in Alaska, Montana, Nepal, Iceland and Greenland to capture real-time glacial images. Balog designed them specially, since they had to function in sub-zero temperatures, hold up in 150-mph winds and snap 8,000 frames annually, according to an interview he and Orlowski did with the Associated Press.
After Hurricane Sandy, or Superstorm Sandy as the uber-tempest is now known, flooded and leveled parts of New York and New Jersey, Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who has famously refused to endorse a presidential candidate in the past (he himself is unaffiliated, though he has been both Democrat and Republican)—gave incumbent President Barack Obama a nod for his position on climate change. Although Balog said in the AP interview that climate change should not be a political issue, he also said it's something that leaders should be discussing.
“I was pleased to see distinguished political figures acknowledge what the information has been saying all along,” Balog told the Toronto Star, “things that should have been talked about and dealt with…. Sandy is a wake-up call.”
Strong words for a guy who initially was skeptical about the whole notion of climate change. His mind, though, was changed when he started observing it firsthand in the 1990s on various assignments.
The film is scheduled to debut publicly on November 9 in New York, Toronto and Boston, though the New York venue is in some doubt because of complications from Hurricane Sandy, which decimated large sections of the city. Without power for days, the venue may not be up and running in time.
The video below is an official trailer for this documentary that’s rife with drama both environmental and personal as Balog makes his trek. His photos can also be seen at his website and in National Geographic.