Now playing in select theaters, “Chacing Ice” chronicles stark evidence for the case for climate change from a unique perspective; the photography of a global warming skeptic. Recently, ‘Ice’ made the coveted Oscar Documentary Shortlist along with 14 other feature length documentaries. I had an opportunity to speak with producer Paula DuPre Pesmen and director Jeff Orlowski about the challenges of making this documentary, the need to experience it on the big screen, and what message they hope “Chacing Ice” communicate to the audience.
In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.
Chasing Ice is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Within months of that first trip to Iceland, the photographer conceived the boldest expedition of his life: The Extreme Ice Survey. With a band of young adventurers in tow, Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.
As the debate polarizes America and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up globally, Balog finds himself at the end of his tether. Battling untested technology in subzero conditions, he comes face to face with his own mortality. It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet.
From the magical enchantment of the blockbuster “Harry Potter” series to the dire brutality of dolphin slaughter in Oscar winning “The Cove,” Paula DuPre Pesmen has spent most of her career producing International recognized features. Besides the “Harry Potter” franchise, she co-produced “Step Mom,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Nine Months” — movies meant for families However, it was her own family particularly her children that inspired her involvement in the alarming and timely documentary “Chasing Ice.”
Pesmen had just completed post-production on “The Cove” when photographer James Balog had contacted her. In fact, Pesmen was so determined to make sure this project was successfully launched, she volunteered her time “for 3 and half years” to make sure the footage became a documentary feature reality.
“Our generation will be dealing with this [climate change] issue and its our responsibility as adults to make sure this taken care of for our children, The minute I saw the footage on his computer, I volunteered my time for this project. I felt an immediate connection with what I saw in the footage and was very alarmed by it.”
Director Jeff Orowski also admitted that the project “Chasing Ice” had very humble beginnings which grew into something much larger then he ever expected.
“The original plan wasnt to make the film,” said Orowski. “We were doing YouTube promotions for this ice project. During every trip we went on, more crazy stuff just happened. Over time, we decided that we had this footage we share with the world.”
And with this stunning footage, these shots captured in “Chasing Ice” are some of the best photography I have seen in a nature documentary in several years. Despite the challenging and harsh climate, the filmmakers were in command of their surroundings to provide the best perspective for their audience.
“Obviously the conditions were challenging including everything from the weather and the cold, the rain, snowstroms, sleet, and hail,” said Orlowski. “The whole purpose was to get these time lapses on camera. We were forced into these situations and just had to wait for them.”
Best described as a photographers exploration turned scientific expedition, “Chacing Ice” showcases it takes dedication, passion, and skills from talented filmmakers to make documented footage into a full length film a reality. Bringing something different to the discussion of climate change made ‘Ice’ such an unforgettable experience. Numerous amateur and top notch filmmakers have made climate change documentaries from various perspectives. Everyone from Al Gore to Leonardo DiCaprio to Alanis Morisette to Bjorn Lomborg have provided their high profile statue to promote an environmental documentary. What makes “Chasing Ice” such a unique, thought provoking scientific expose is the evidence captured of melting ice. The justifiable panic is all in the photos. With numerous documentaries about our chaotic climate, focusing on the photography particularly the melting ice makes it stand out and brings the reality of the climate crisis to the viewer.
“For me, hearing about ice melting makes it feel far away.” Pechmen said. “Seeing those images and the evidence of these ice caps and glaciers melting even faster then predicted was very shocking. I was able to make the connections. Its the extreme storms and temperatures that are responding. We cant see it. You can see the ice. When you see it retreating, we see the damage we are doing. If its happening there, its happening in all other things we cannot see.” Orlowski wanted the photography to show the realism in the devistation, but wanted to be very scientific based.
“I think a lot of the film is science oriented,” Orlowski said. “We wanted to make a unique and invaluable story to tell. We wanted to tell that story, but wanted to convey the philosophical approach to working on the film as well.”
With little time for action, Pechman bluntly and simply frames the solution to the climate crisis unfolding in the film: “We need to quit politicizing this issue and do something about it.”
Documentaries aren’t typical big box office draws nor usually viewed on the big screen. Most seemed to be experienced on the very limiting space of a flat screen television at home. In today’s age, many viewers apathetically will find a documentary on cable or in a Netflix library. However, “Chasing Ice” was meant for a large screen format to disgust the stunning visuals displayed.
“When you see these images on the big screen, you can get a small sense of the scale of the ice and landscapes,” she said. “You can feel more of the scale of the destruction on a big screen in a large theater. It is an experience to see these landscapes at this size. I never tire of watching those images on the big screen.”
Director Orlowski whole heatedly agrees that “Chasing Ice” is meant to be seen in a movie theater.
“We designed it for the big screen,” Orlowski said. “It was very difficult and complicated to conveine how big they are. When you see it on the big screen you see how big it. Both the images and the sound are designed for the format.”
Likewise, Pechman wants the viewer to be educated, then inspired to take action on this pressing climate issue.
“I hope that this doc will help people who aren’t sure on climate change to shift their perspective. We really need everyone to be involved for the future of the planet and that they will get involved in positive changes that will make a difference,” Pechman said.
And “Chasing Ice” has already had the impact beyond its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Being Shortlisted by the Academy is no simple task and Orlowski is thankful that “Chasing Ice” belongs on that small list of Oscar eligible documentary films.
“Our entire team is truly humbled that Chasing Ice has been shortlisted. There are so many incredible films out this year, it is such an honor to be included amongst these great filmmakers and powerful stories,” Orlowski said.
For showtimes and locations to screen “Chasing Ice,” visit chasingice.com. This is a documentary you do not want to miss watching in a theater screen.
The showing of “Chasing Ice” I attended was supported by Colorado Public Radio via our CPR Landmark Movie Night program, which was developed to thank listeners who donate $365/yr or a dollar a day to CPR. When donating this amount, you are eligible for two tickets each month to an exclusive screening of a soon-to-be released film at the Mayan, the Esquire or the Chez Artiste. Colorado Public Radio initiated the program to help support Denver’s local independent movie theaters while also giving our listeners the added benefit of being exposed to new films that similarly seek to inform, enlighten and entertain.
For more information about the CPR Landmark Movie Night, please contact Christine Andresen at [email protected]