Powerful images from a disappearing world

Thursday October 25, 2012

Editor’s note: The inaugural Brattleboro Film Festival takes place Friday through Sunday, Nov. 2-4, at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro. The following is review of one of the films featured in the festival. For more information, visit www.brattleborofilmfestival.org.

How far will a person go to pursue their personal vision? That’s the subject of director Jeff Orlowski’s new documentary, "Chasing Ice."

This powerful, visually stunning film chronicles nature photographer James Balog’s mission to document the rapidly disappearing glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere. Along the way, Balog faces and overcomes physical challenges, weather extremes and technical problems as he and his assistants record evidence of climate change in the melting glaciers.

Balog spent many years photographing endangered wildlife and other subjects for nature publications. While on an Iceland beach in 2005, he had an epiphany that he could he tell a story about climate change through images of ice.

"The public needs a believable, understandable piece of visual evidence (about climate change ... something that grabs them in the gut,"Balog comments at one point.

Balog wrote an article for National Geographic magazine about the melting glaciers that became one of the publication’s best-read stories over the last few years. The success of the story inspired him to found the Extreme Ice Survey in 2007, setting up 25 cameras in Iceland to visually record the glaciers over a three-year period, facing hurricane-force winds and minus-40-degree temperatures. The project was later expanded to include Greenland, Alaska and Montana.

Balog says that 20 years ago he was a skeptic about climate change.

"I didn’t think that humans were capable of changing the basic physics and chemistry of (the) planet," he says. But in studying the history embedded in the ice cores, he saw the close correlation between CO2 levels and temperature, and became a believer. "We’re living through one of those moments of epochal change, and we humans are causing it," he comments.

Interviews with scientists in the film offer sobering statistics on the effects of climate change -- plant and animal extinctions, increased forest fires, sea-level rise, and other weather-related disasters. Yet the film is at its most powerful when it returns to Balog’s personal story, including interviews with his wife and daughter, his forays on the lecture circuit, and his emotional response when contemplating the larger meaning of the melting ice.

If you believe in climate change, "Chasing Ice" will reinforce your views in a way that few other films have done. But even if you don’t, the film works as a thought-provoking adventure story of a passionate man capturing beautiful images of a rapidly disappearing landscape.

Paul Cameron is executive director of Brattleboro Climate Protection. "Chasing Ice" will be shown as part of the Brattleboro Film Festival on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 4 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Cameron.


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