Ice is beautiful, there’s no doubt about it; water frozen into solid form and influenced by the endless myriad of different atmospheric factors; this documentary could well have been called Ice is Beautiful.
That’s because Jeff Orlowski’s documentary, Chasing Ice, captures the work of environmentalist and dedicated photographer, James Balog, with stunning imagery and attention to detail, highlighting both the majestic beauty of this quiet wilderness and the precarious nature of capturing a world in decline.
Chasing Ice – a personal journey
As early as 2007 Balog was capturing the melting arctic on film, via time-lapse photography, to bring to life the melting ice in a way that is easy for our visually focussed, fast-paced societies to understand. He describes the urgency of his work, bringing into clarity what this means for the changing landscape he is seeking to record; a landscape once preserve in ice; now preserved on a memory card:
This is the memory of the landscape. That landscape is gone. Never be seen again in the history of the civilisation and its stored right here .
There is something completely tragic about this sentiment and yet its essential to the film. With climate deniers occupying considerably influential positions across the developed world; its essential the urgency and meaning behind this film’s message is understood in order for us to properly understand what these changing environments mean for our world.
But the individual story is also a key driver in this film. Whilst America continues the debate about climate change and whether or not it is even happening, Balog has been quietly amassing millions of images documenting the visual changes already underway. And in some of the most inhospitable conditions on Earth. America has yet to be persuaded of the danger and immediacy of climate change and if the science isn’t enough to do so, then visual evidence of the havoc being wreaked maybe more effective.
When Balog first started shooting the retreating glaciers, he very soon decided that wasn’t enough. Founding the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) he began to place automated cameras at sites across Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana. The weather had other plans however, destroying much of this equipment and setting the team back months. However resilience is a characteristic in strong display here. The team reset their cameras, producing thousands of images that were then used to record the ice loss.
Resilience, grit and determination see Balog through and nothing, including failing knees, will stop him from heading back out into the wilderness. We learn he has had four surgeries in the course of the film and one shot sees Balog hunched and determined, setting out into the Arctic wilderness on crutches.
The mesmerising images, woven together produce their own narrative. They are both stunning and awesome in equal measure and this propels the film along to its inevitable concluding message; a star warning to all of us about the consequence of inaction with regards to global warming — but this is perhaps where the film falls a little short. There is so much beauty and silent eeriness caught up in the imagery of this film that a pervading sense of the film is that we can almost lose ourselves in the pure spectacle of it all. It’s almost too mesmerising.
And this is the challenge for the film and anyone attempting to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change. What is the call to action? It’s a question that will dominate our lifetimes and for centuries to come.