Directed by Jeff Orlowski. STC. 75 min. Opens Nov. 9.
“Insanely, ridiculously beautiful.” That’s photographer-turned-scientist James Balog’s assessment of the frozen Arctic vistas he’s made it his life’s work to photograph. The almost unnervingly gorgeous images in the new documentary Chasing Ice bear out his words.
Like Jennifer Baichwal’s Manufactured Landscapes (although far more conventionally structured), Jeff Orlowski’s film splits the difference between profiling its subject and extending his work into a different medium. After a rather didactic opening passage that involves TV talking-heads bloviating about global warming (including a pointed insert of Mitt Romney denying the last decade’s worth of environmental upheavals), the film begins piggybacking on Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey: a globe-hopping expedition designed to use time-lapse photography to prove just how severely the world’s glaciers are receding.
“[People] need something that grabs them in the gut,” says Balog, explaining the genesis of the project. And indeed, there are shots that you feel in the pit of your stomach, including a photo of a massive ice-shelf breaking away into the ocean. Balog suffers numerous injuries clambering up the sides of mountains and skittering over sheets of ice. He’s a dogged and determined professional, made even more compelling as a protagonist by the fact that he used to be a climate-change skeptic. At this point, he’s more inclined to believe his eyes. The achievement of Orlowski’s film is that it allows us to share in his vision.