Chasing Ice (Jeff Orlowski, 2012)
Towards the end of this movie, there is an interview with a former Shell employee who, upon being exposed to James Balog’s work, quit his job spin doctoring for Big Oil and went to work for the dark side. I do not know this for certain, but I am going to take an educated guess that that particular interview has been savaged by the so-called conservatives who attack the science of climate change on a regular basis. (The reason I say “so-called conservatives” is beyond the scope of this review, but to oversimplify, “orthodox religious” and “conservative” are mutually exclusive terms; it is impossible to base your arguments solely on reason when your thinking is driven by faith, which is by definition the antithesis of reason.) I am here to tell you that yes, it is possible.
I was not a believer in climate change. One of my favorite stories comes from an ex-Navy friend of mine who used to pilot submarines. (Tough living, huh?) In the early nineties, he and his crew hosted Al Gore, and they took him on a cruise up around the coast of Alaska. He came back the next year, so said friend tells me, and wanted to take that same trip so he could gauge the effects of climate change on the glaciers. We always had quite a laugh at that one. Well, more fool us, because here comes James Balog with photographic evidence of the amount of loss a number of major glaciers in America and western Europe have undergone over a four-year period from 2007 to 2011. And it’s the simplest play in the book: seeing is believing. To put this in the kindest terms I can think of: if you come away from this movie doubting climate change, you have your head somewhere that the light can’t reach it. A thousand hyperboles from activist types who have a little schooling in marketing can’t compare to watching time-lapse photography of two and a half miles of a glacier retreating in four years’ time.
There is, of course, a lot of personal stuff all wrapped up in this; it is as much a documentary about Balog as it is about the EIS, and Orlowski makes some great parallels between glaciers and James Balog’s knee. (I don’t mean that sarcastically, it’s understated and quite inventive.) There were times when I thought the movie focused too much on the people and not enough on its stated subject, though they were brief and always tied back in to the movie’s subject matter (for example, the two guys babysitting the glacier in the last quarter of the movie; it looks like filler until the scene where Orlowski reveals why he kept all that footage in).
Put simply: this is a life-changing film. It is not so much a documentary as it is an experience. This is important filmmaking, and it is made all the more important because, like his subject, at no point does Orlowski allow his message to get in the way of the artistry of his presentation; the entire film is beautifully shot, with Orlowski doing all sorts of little things to play up the differences between his indoor and outdoor shots (and taking into account the personalities of the subjects onscreen at the time; the indoor shots with Balog’s family are much more comfortable than the indoor shots with Balog himself, who would always rather be outdoors, for example), spending time lingering on beautiful ice shots, etc. It is as much a feast for the eyes as it is food for the brain, and it is a movie you need to see, preferably at your earliest convenience. Do not let this one get away. **** ½