Chasing Ice
Jeff Orlowski
SUBMARINE DELUXE
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In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the power and unpredictability of nature and the ever-changing weather patterns have become increasingly apparent. As topics such as weather and global warming become increasingly prevalent in today’s culture, James Balog’s documentary “Chasing Ice” provides striking images of how climate change has caused glacial erosion.

“Chasing Ice,” which opens in Los Angeles on Nov. 23, traces the journey of environmental photographer Balog as he attempts to capture the erosion of glaciers in the Arctic through photographs and video. In order to accomplish this goal, Balog started his own project and dubbed it the Extreme Ice Survey. This endeavor began as a project for National Geographic and turned out to reach a broader scope by tackling the problem of glacial erosion.

Balog’s survey began with a total of 25 cameras that were to be monitored over the course of three years. The cameras were housed in protective units in order to prevent their destruction in the harsh Arctic weather, and Balog’s team periodically downloaded the footage. After having photographed glaciers in the past, Balog says in the film that he wanted to return to some of the same places he had visited to see how the glaciers had changed. He and his team set up cameras in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana’s Glacier National Park.

The documentary begins with a series of striking and intense video clips of multiple natural disasters. Balog establishes the goal of the film from the very beginning by explaining his own initial skepticism regarding climate change and academic research on this topic. This makes Balog more relatable and increases his credibility as a photojournalist who ends up finding evidence for what he once doubted was actually occurring.

This documentary effectively combines data and scientific facts with visually appealing images that make climate change more real. Balog’s photographs and time-lapse footage of glaciers “calving,” or breaking apart into icebergs, allow viewers to see and experience what is actually happening in these zones. The bigger the screen, the better to view the beautiful images that Balog has captured, many of which most people will never have the chance to experience in person.

Balog also refrains from overwhelming his audience with too many scientific details and makes the data easy to understand. He explains his methods and how he interprets his results without coming across as boring. It is hard to watch an avalanche on screen or see the extreme erosion of glaciers over a short period of time and not realize that Balog is clearly onto something.

The film also incorporates a sense of the extreme lengths that Balog and his team, including a glaciologist and climatologist, were willing to go to capture footage of this glacial erosion. There are scenes in which Balog cries out in disappointment when some cameras are not working and other moments when he puts himself in quite precarious positions as he descends into holes and caves of ice in order to get the best shot. Not to mention the knee surgery that threatens to keep him from ice hiking on his journey.

“Chasing Ice” is definitely a worthwhile documentary that combines intriguing theories and exquisite images. Those who are skeptical about theories on the environment might be reluctant to see the film, but there is still something to be gained from Balog’s research. Balog and his team make viewers think critically about climate change and what it can mean for our future.

Email Seikaly at aseikaly@media.ucla.edu