If you'd like to start the new year off worrying about something, you could do worse than screen Jeff Orlowski's doc, Chasing Ice. It's equal parts a profile of renowned nature photographer James Balog; gorgeous footage of exotic locales; and a derring-do adventure. But as a whole, the film is primarily a Giant Blinking Light that Earth's glaciers are melting and disappearing at an astonishing pace.
Skeptical? Well, Balog was, too. So, he decided to prove whether something was happening by establishing the Extreme Ice Survey. Orlowski documents EIS over the past few years, as Balog and his hardy assistants set up two dozen fixed cameras in Iceland, Greenland and Alaska that continually snap photos of glaciers. (The adventure part of this film is watching these guys get to these remote locations, or — hold your breath — lower themselves into bottomless glacial pits to get a good photograph.)
While we wait for the data to come in on this quixotic quest — the team has to return to the cameras mounted on wind- and snow-swept cliffs every few months to download the photos — Orlowski has some scientists weigh in on climate change and its likely effects. The film also incorporates news footage from the last decade's alarming run of extreme weather events. (You'll have to fill in the impact of recent Superstorm Sandy yourself.)
Balog also talks about how his concern about climate change has intensified. It's an issue he clearly approaches with both the trepidation of a citizen ("the air is changing") and the excitement of documenting a massive, "invisible" set of circumstances.
His proof is in EIS' time-lapse photography of glaciers shrinking, collapsing — even disappearing — over just a couple of years. (One glacier in Alaska retreated so quickly that the camera had to be moved three times in three years, just to keep the glacier in frame.) Even climate-change deniers should be alarmed at the rate and scale of disappearing ice.
And like Perry Mason, Balog has one last piece of devastating evidence up his sleeve: the biggest glacial collapse ever caught on film. It's awesome visually, but, really, not a good thing to see.