Now, thanks to a dedicated team of photographers, researchers, and film producers, that image has been captured onscreen. Chasing Ice is a documentary that brings the issue of climate change to light through depiction of changes in one of the most fragile and susceptible ecosystems on Earth – the glaciers of the high Arctic.
“What we’re seeing now is the Greenland ice sheet thinning and dumping ever more ice into the ocean,” environmental photographer Jim Balog points out. The film follows Mr. Balog on an epic and important quest to document the rapidly changing ice landscapes of the Arctic. Initially a climate change skeptic, Mr. Balog undergoes a 180 degree turn in his beliefs as he witnesses firsthand what few get a chance to see: real, undeniable evidence of a changing climate manifest most dramatically by receding glaciers and the breaking off of huge ice chunks, a phenomenon called calving.
As Mr. Balog mentions during the film, the length at which the Greenland ice sheet has receded is roughly equivalent to the height of the Empire State building. Seeing visual depictions of calving, these gigantic ice chunks breaking off and crashing into the sea, is like witnessing the crumbling of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. “We’re in the midst of geologic scale change,” said Mr. Balog. “We’re living in a moment of geologic change right now. And we humans are causing it.”
What started off as an assignment for National Geographic evolved into a global project called the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). Mr. Balog, founder of EIS, and his crew installed 25 cameras across the Arctic, from Alaska to Greenland and Iceland. Their intention was to try to shoot every hour as daylight permitted, for a three-year period beginning in 2007.
Facing technological and physical hurdles, including camera malfunctions and multiple knee surgeries, Mr. Balog persevered. The results are breathtaking and chilling images of massive ice sheets responding to a changing climate. This is the reality of climate change caught on film, happening right now. The film weaves in a powerful environmental message and a stark warning – if we fail to act now, the consequences will be catastrophic and irreversible.
“We can’t divorce civilization from nature,” Mr. Balog remarks during the film. “We’re totally dependent upon it.”
Chasing Ice is currently playing in select theaters nationwide. It came to Pittsfield recently (January 4-7) at the Berkshire Museum’s Little Cinema. The film has won 23 film festival awards around the world, including Sundance Film Festival’s Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary (2012), the Environmental Media Association’s 22nd Annual Best Documentary Award, and the Berkshire International Film Festival’s (BIFF) 2012 Best Documentary title.
It was announced at the end of the Berkshire film festival last June that the film won both the jury award and the audience award for best documentary. The audience award is based on filmgoers’ ballot voting on a 1 to 5 scale, and according to BIFF Executive Director Kelley Vickery, the film got nothing but 5s from viewers.
“It’s a really powerful film,” Vickery said. “We were very proud to have it at BIFF.”
Vickery acknowledged it wasn’t an easy film to get. “But he have a good relationship with the distribution company,” she said. “I saw it at Sundance a year ago and it was wowing audiences at Sundance.” So she started the conversation about bringing the film to BIFF, and clearly it was the right move, given its impact on BIFF filmgoers.
This film has been moving audiences across the nation and across the globe with its very real and very sobering images and overall message. It has also received a remarkably positive response from the media and public figures. Gregg Reitman of the Huffington Post describes the film as “hauntingly beautiful” and comments “the climate change debate is over.” According to Robert Redford, “You’ve never seen images like this before…it deserves to be seen and felt on the big screen.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. calls it “the smoking gun on climate change.”
It really is just that, a message to the public that it is time to wake up and realize what it happening to our planet, at this very moment. Mr. Balog is the messenger. For him, photography is a way through which he hopes to reach people and bring the issue of climate change to light. “Photography for me has been about raising awareness,” he says during the film.
According to Mr. Balog, climate change is not an economic or technological problem. It is a perception problem. “We have a problem with perception,” he remarks during the film. “We don’t get it yet.”