Monday, November 26, 2012

Chasing Ice: new film dramatically documents shrinking glaciers

Chasing Ice is a new documentary that chronicles the struggles of photographer James Balog as he set out to complete the Extreme Ice Survey.  The survey was designed to monitor the movement of glaciers existing today under the threat of climate changes, in particular the increase in temperatures that are resulting in glaciers melting at phenomenal rates.

Filming glaciers and other ice formations in Alaska and Montana in the U.S.; Greenland, Iceland and the Alps in Europe; Canada and even Bolivia, Balog used a variety of cameras to conduct time lapse photography, usually taking one picture per hour all through the daylight hours.  When placed in sequence the work of many months and even years could be seen in a few seconds and the results were startling.

With warming air, ground, and water temperatures, ice formations are being attacked from all angles.  While glaciers have experienced back and forth ebbs and flow, nothing in the historical record compares to the rapid disappearance that they are experiencing today.  What might seem gradual, even imperceptible, to most people is happening in the blink of an eye in geological terms.  And Balog's work captures it most dramatically.

While the underlying message of Chasing Ice is the destructive power of climate change as seen in the ice formations, the film also focuses on Balog's journey itself.  And this was not an easy one.  To get cameras in their optimum position was not just a case of a camera, a tripod, and a nice wide shot in a meadow miles away.  Balog and his team had to often move into dangerous locations on the ice formations themselves, scaling ice walls or venturing out onto ice and snow that could give way at any second.

And there was the challenge of getting the technology to cooperate.  Extended cold temperatures and moisture do not mix well with digital cameras.  Balog had to devised safe, dry, insulated housings for many of the cameras used.  A wide range of cameras were used including Sony, Nikon, Panasonic, and others - a total of 30 in all. 

Chasing Ice is the dramatic adventure of a courageous and dedicated photographer.  That is the hook, the entertainment, meant to draw in the audience.  But once there, they will see that what is truly dangerous is what is happening to the planet.  Climate change is shifting the fundamental components that make up the life support system that animal and plant life have depended on for tens of thousands of years.  And it's happening much quicker than many had anticipated.

Chasing Ice premiered in November at the Toronto International Film Festival and has been in limited release in the U.S. (There was a screening this past Thanksgiving holiday weekend near my neck of the woods in Los Angeles.)  Look for it in your area.  The National Geographic Channel will also air it in the first half of 2013, but see it in a large screen theater if you can.  Big images need a big venue.           

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