As many of you know, I am mildly obsessed with glaciers and icebergs. I’ve written about them here and here. I’ve been painting and drawing them for several years. This past year, I even visited the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland, which I wrote about here. So I was really excited when I found out last year that a new film was being made about glaciers featuring pioneering environmental photographer and global warming activist James Balog and his work to capture them on film. That film, Chasing Ice, premiered last year and is on a run around independent theaters right now. I had the privilege of seeing it last night in San Francisco.
Sure, the film is awe-inspiringly beautiful (a combination of the filmmakers’ shots and Balog’s photography grace the screen for 75 minutes). To me, glaciers and icebergs are some of the most stunning sights in the world (hence my obsession with them). But the film is also heart-breaking. With a team of young engineers and assistants, Balog sets out to conduct the The Extreme Ice Survey — deploying time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic (from Alaska to Greenland to Iceland) to capture a multi-year record of some of the world’s glaciers. And what makes the film sad are the results: Balog’s stunning time-lapse videos compress years into seconds and what were at one time enormous glaciers (which previously had stood at relatively the same size for thousands of years) recede (break apart and melt) at record speed over the course of a few years. Balog argues that most of this now-quick recession is a result of climate change, which he describes as simply as “changes in the air.”
What makes this film important and inspiring are two things: 1) the power of the individual to shine enormous light on an urgent global issue. Sure, Balog deployed a team and had tremendous support. But without him, this project never would have happened 2) the fact that through Balog’s photography we can see, with our own eyes, undeniable evidence of what is happening in the arctic. It’s no longer just a story we hear. It’s real. What the film doesn’t adequately explore is the impact of these changes in the arctic on the rest of the planet (though their website has some great information). I suppose that is another film.