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Climate change is an issue, there's no way getting around it. It is the defining problem of the century and yet there are still people out there who think that it is a subject for debate. This is because much of the data presented by scientists are built on numbers and there is an overall sense that it is gradual. Photographer James Balog decided to tell the story of climate change the way he knew how – with images that show the changes happening right now. Balog began the Extreme Ice Survey to track glaciers in Alaska, Iceland and Greenland over a period of years, beginning in 2006. His project is the subject of director Jeff Orlowski's 2012 documentary, Chasing Ice.
The 75-minute film packs in a lot of information, beginning with a brief introduction to Balog and his career. Balog does have a background in science, but he opted to become an environmental photographer, capturing animals and nature. He turned his attention to climate change and figured that capturing the rapid change of glaciers was the best way to visually present the issue. After first publishing a piece in National Geographic, he then expanded the project to what became the Extreme Ice Survey.
Balog is dedicated to his cause, even if it means having a fourth surgery on his knee and hiking against doctor's orders. Orlowski does bring the documentary down to a personal level, but it is clear that Balog is not doing this alone. The cameras look in on his team and his wife and two daughters, without whom the project would have been impossible.
While this would have been great to see at a theater, the Blu-ray edition still presents stunning images that are partly beautiful and yet horrific at the same time. Watching the calving of Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier is amazing, because nothing of that magnitude has been captured on camera before. But it is also heartbreaking to see nature crumble apart.
Chasing Ice was released on Blu-ray last month by Cinedigm in a well-designed package that includes a booklet with Balog's photographs. An in-depth collection of extra features are included, with a commentary from Orlowski and making-of featurettes. There's also a music video for the song “Before My Time,” which was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year and sung by Scarlett Johansson.
Chasing Ice is a unique film about Balog's quest to make people understand the biggest issue we face, climate change. It does not look at it as if it is some political issue, but instead as a human issue. If you're remotely interested in the topic, this is a must-see.