Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Ice is a short but powerful look at the effects of climate change. Documenting National Geographic photographer James Balog’s three-year study of melting glaciers, the film utilizes the beautiful blues and whites of the Arctic to great effect while putting forth startling scientific findings. With Balog’s self-detrimental dedication mixing nicely with a handful of presentation techniques, the activist message connects on numerous levels and results in a thoroughly successful work.
Just as Shakira’s hips don’t lie, Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey offers up large concentrations of frozen water as a truthful indicator of global warming. A load of facts and figures carry on the tradition set forth by An Inconvenient Truth, but unlike Al Gore’s passion project, Orlowski knows that more than mere data is necessary to win reluctant hearts and minds. Tracking Balog and his brave crew to Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska, the director captures stunning images at locales most can only dream of visiting. Through an exciting blend of still nature photography, crisply shot video, time-lapse photography, and computer models, he presents Balog’s work as the adventure that it is and allows the scientific information to smoothly set in.
Chief among Chasing Ice’s premier footage are shots of large-scale calving, in which hunks of ice come apart from the glacial body. Filmed from afar, once comparisons (i.e. the size of Manhattan; the height of the Empire State Building) are provided, the true magnitude of these unnaturally frequent events becomes frighteningly clear. Shot almost too close for comfort, however, is the scene in which Balog and his crew rappel down the walls of a hundred-foot ice chasm. The risk of such a venture is understandably high, but the reward of stunning pictures (and, thanks to Orlowski’s daring camerawork, video) is worth the effort.
Gluing it all together is the film’s human angle and a more interesting guide would be hard to find. Balog’s borderline dangerous personal drive is cause for both celebration and concern, especially as his activities take their toll on his body. Hiking and scaling icy structures on a freshly-repaired knee not cleared for such strain, his behavior baffles yet inspires his colleagues who in turn give their all to his leadership. Capturing the ups and downs of this rare motivation, Orlowski makes it easy to come under Balog’s spell, which in turn transforms the photographer’s triumphs and despairs into those of the viewer.
Thanks to Balog’s presence, Chasing Ice separates itself from the average nature and science documentary. His work is an impressive accomplishment and it’s only appropriate that the surrounding film be of similarly high quality. Still, at a measly 71 minutes, Orlowski’s project ends far too soon, clocking in at barely longer than its television kin. Though the film would nonetheless play well at home, the scope of its images and the impact of Balog’s findings warrant big screen treatment, and makes for an experience not soon forgotten.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Chasing Ice is currently playing at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave.