Grim serendipity constitutes the thematic foundation of eco-doc Chasing Ice. Jeff Orlowski’s film follows National Geographic photographer and amateur scientist James Balog during his multi-continental mission to provide the world sobering, visual proof of the severity of climate change. By framing such a foreboding narrative in the context of live photography — a profession inherently reliant on kismet and happenstance — Balog’s most desired, sought-after images incidentally become the most apocalyptic. The result is, much like the dawn before a storm, alluringly menacing.
Chasing Ice’s visuals are as aesthetically stunning as they are provocative. Sweeping time-lapse shots of a deteriorating Earth could pass as lost footage from Reggio’s extravagantly naturalist Qatsi trilogy. Shots like these have garnered the deserved praise of activist documentarians and visual artists alike — earning the film Sundance’s Excellence in Cinematography award. Chasing Ice is as much a portrait of Balog’s tenacity and obsession as it is a forecast of environmental doom. It details a man’s relentless, nearly self-destructive war against the elements, fleeting time and failing technology. A man hoping against hope to capture that crucial shot that will finally reveal to humanity a glimpse of its fate. Perhaps the timing of its release — as the East Coast still struggles to recover from Sandy — evokes just the grim serendipity that Orlowski’s story demands.