7/29: Chasing Ice
As photojournalist and climate change activist James Balog notes in Chasing Ice, there’s something both miraculous and horrifying about the sight of an Icelandic glacier as its crumbles into the sea, a once ancient geological monument now reduced to fragments. Literally. In his documentary, director Jeff Orlowski makes ample effort to synchronize Balog’s dedication to climate change education with Balog’s private battle with the physical tolls that mission has taken on him, particularly his busted knees. It’s an immensely personal story, even inside of such grand, often terrifying images of serene beauty and irreversible change.
Yet Chasing Ice also peaks rather early, in part from its attention to that up close approach with Balog. Thirty minutes in, there’s a false swell. Orlowski moves from the rarity of Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) team observing that falling glacier before transitioning to broader statements about climate change’s perils. There’s no use in disputing what has been a widely-accepted understanding in the scientific community for some time now, but Orlowski bungles the transition from one man’s calling in life to zooming out to a grander vision of utilitarianism and conservationism.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but be taken by the film’s exquisite visuals, even in spite of its finesse. There’s a particularly striking photo of Balog’s taken at night, one which the photojournalist claims situate his sense of place in the universe. I can see where he’s coming from. The moon’s high in the sky, surrounded by a net of luminous stars, while the glaciers radiate the coolest of blues. It’s a humbling portrait of our own smaller role in a world that, outside of photography, might not resemble how we know it much longer.