Making a star of photographer James Balog, Chasing Ice is the latest in a long run of documentaries about climate change. What marks this one out so clearly though is in its focus on the breathtaking photography of Balog and the visual impact that his unique approach can have.
Balog will be well known to anyone familiar with National Geographic, as even those unfamiliar with his name will have seen many of his extraordinary photographs that grace the pages of the magazine. His most recent and perhaps most ambitious project is one to document glacial changes in an effort to provide a clear visual aid in highlighting the drastic and deadly changes that are taking place on earth in the 21st century. Placing a number of cameras in Greenland, Iceland and Alaska, Balog has created time-lapse images of the receding glaciers, providing a beautiful but terrifying example of the effects of climate change.
Largely documenting the struggles that Balog faced in just getting the camera systems in place and working, Chasing Ice also moves sideways occasionally to look at the arguments surrounding climate change, including interviews from notable glaciologists, his family’s take on his work and also the personal struggles he faces as his body begins to fail. Often in cinema and on television we see those extreme figures who risk their lives in a pursuit of some kind of adventurer lifestyle but it is clear in Chasing Ice that Balog’s obsession is fuelled by his passion to make a difference not simply push boundaries. This is never more evident than in what is oddly the film’s most emotional scene, the moment when Balog realises that yet another of his cameras has not worked. As Balog breaks down, the wider importance of what he is doing is strongly conveyed in what is an incredibly emotional and affecting personal scene.
The fact that, even in the face of expert opinion, many still need convincing regarding climate change is somewhat depressing but well illustrated by the use of ‘news’ reports peppered throughout this documentary. In Chasing Ice though, director Jeff Orlowski and Balog have created a highly compelling and visually striking argument as to the extent of the changes occurring on the planet today. Despite the film ending on something of a positive note, and with the strains of Scarlett Johansson singing ‘Before My Time’, as one leaves the cinema, mouth gaping from the awe-inspiring power of our natural landscapes, it is very hard not to shake the sickening feeling that we are in very, very serious trouble.
Embedded below is James Balog’s TED Talk from 2009, a taster or what is contained within the extraordinary Chasing Ice.