Chasing Ice Documentary Filmmakers

Imagine yourself in conversation with someone who is important to you. But there’s a problem: your important someone doesn’t entirely agree with what you are saying.

You provide facts to appeal to their mind and emotions to appeal to their heart. You try humor. Perhaps you even use the magical art of active listening, then reframe the issue to reintroduce this important someone to why your point is well, right. You try and you try, but the resistance is still there. Nothing and no one has moved despite your words of wisdom and wit.

What do you say then? Perhaps you say one of these well-worn lines: “Ok. See for yourself.” “Seeing is believing.” “Can you see my point?” Or, our favorite, the simple plead: “Seeeee!”

Notice all statements include a variation on the word “see.” Seeing transitions you to a world where words aren’t needed to produce agreement. Seeing puts us in awe of feats of strength and wonders of the world. Seeing creates a lasting impression. Seeing a wrong makes us upset. Seeing something worth protecting makes us want to act. Seeing explains what words often fail to say.

The team documenting an Antarctic crevasse.

Seeing is the visual side of saying something. And, if you’re going to say something – whether with images or words – why not say it well? Our last post and this next one take you to places that you might not otherwise see. These interviewees wanted you to see what climate change looks like. These folks spoke volumes with the visuals they created. In doing so, they put climate change in plain view for all of us.

As we head into the long, hot days of summer, today’s post takes you to a much cooler place. A place you may never see except through the work of Jeff Orlowski. In the documentary Chasing Ice, he takes all of us to a place where glaciers live. We welcome him to the blog and thank him for sharing his thoughts about showing climate change through time-lapse images.

How did your team first come up with the idea to take time-lapse images of the glaciers? 

It was originally James’s idea, the main character of the film. Back then (in 2006-2007), no one was really talking about how glaciers were changing. It was very insightful of him to think of that. A mutual friend connected us and suggested that we meet.

The project seems like a great way to help the public visualize the impact of climate change. What do you think are the most compelling images? 

The whole objective for us was to visualize climate change. We were talking about how invisible air is causing change all the time. Because air is invisible, it’s easy to dismiss it. We wanted to root climate change in something that the brain could understand. When you have visual imagery of the change occurring, it becomes more evident what is going on. Scientists are very rational. Sometimes facts and figures do not make the heart connection and as a species we are very emotionally driven. Seeing the glaciers change, we discovered that it was a very clear way to get people to emotionally connect with the story. Our team found that many audience members felt the clips taken during the calving event were the most compelling.


Filmmaker scaling an ice wall

What was surprising in the implementation of the project? 

In the editing of the film, we created lots of versions that didn’t work. We tested out versions of the film with friends, strangers – to all sorts of people – to get feedback on it and to see what they liked and didn’t like. We wanted to know what they didn’t understand, what didn’t make sense, and we also wanted to know what was clear. Due to showing some of these earlier versions and getting feedback, we found out what was working and we adjusted. Originally we were making a film that was more of a biography of James, his past work and approach to photography as whole. Over time, as we were screening that version, people wanted to know more about the ice and the specific project. We realized that telling the story of James was missing this bigger story, so we shifted it away from biography to the story of the Extreme Ice Survey.

Between starting up the project and releasing Chasing Ice, what were some of the major obstacles and how did you overcome those? 

For me, the biggest challenge was the editing. This was my first film that I worked on. I was learning how to tell a feature-length story. I had done short films before, but the process of a short film and a feature film are very different.

Was there any part of the project that went easier than you anticipated?

Ha, no.

What impact did you want the video to have and is it having that impact? Why do you think that is?

It’s hard to go in with a goal for impact. We had hoped that it would make a dent and influence people’s perspective on the issue. The issue of climate change is so contentious and it really shouldn’t be. The data is so clear. As a society, we are really setting ourselves up for failure by not listening to the scientists. We know that we are jeopardizing the ecosystems that keep us alive. By not listening more to the scientists, we are threatening the ecosystems that keep us alive.

James Balog capturing the erosion of glaciers

Looking back, what – if anything – would you have done differently? 

I would have raised more money earlier. I try not to look at things as mistakes or regrets; we just plowed forward with what we thought we needed to do to in order to create success. When we started making the film, its funding was mostly from friends and family. I was a first-time filmmaker. I didn’t have a big reputation or the connections that go with that. Slowly, we collected more and more people with experience and great insight. It took a lot of passion and dedication. Some of the most important people were our producers. They were some of the earliest people that saw the potential for the film. They saw there was something there and that it could be something great. They believed in the film.

How did you pick the name Chasing Ice?

That’s a funny question. There’s a debate as to who was the first to come up with the name. “Chasing” is a theme that comes up throughout the film. At some point someone put the two concepts of the film together, Chasing and Ice.

What’s James up to now?

He’s continuing to document how humans are changing the planet. Extreme Ice Survey is also currently installing and monitoring time-lapse cameras around the world.

When you show this movie to the public, what kinds of reactions do you get? What do they respond most to? What are some of the most interesting responses? 

I think everyone’s response was incredibly powerfully, especial in reaction to the time-lapses and the calving events of the glaciers. It’s a natural phenomenon that very few of us get to see. When you see it, it changes how you think about the world. Seeing is believing, but the first step is understanding. Audiences will say they were blown away by how powerful the images were. We found watching a glacier fall apart was more impactful then listening to someone tell you facts about glaciers.

Eroding glaciers in Antarctica

What do you think people would like to see more of in regard to climate change?

There is still a lot of confusion about how the planet is changing due to human action. We need to continue to collect more imagery that helps the public understand what’s happening and how to take action and find solutions.

Are there any other visual projects about climate change that you would like our readers to know about?

Readers can continue to follow the work of James Balog’s organization Earth Vision Institute as he continues to take powerful imagery of our changing planet.


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