Starting Tuesday evening, the second annual Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainable Community Film Series kicks off at Loaded Joe’s in Avon. The first film, called “Chasing Ice,” follows environmental photographer James Balog as he deploys time lapse cameras to capture a multi year record of the world’s changing glaciers as part of his Extreme Ice Survey. His beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear.
The film, directed by Jeff Orlowski, the same man who produced the Academy Award winning documentary “The Cove,” has been getting a lot of press since it was released. Among the long list, it nabbed the “Excellence in Cinematography” award from the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 and was an Audience Award Festival Favorite at SXSW in 2012.
Orlowski answered a few questions about the film:
Vail Daily: Talk about how “Chasing Ice” came to you as a film. How did you get involved?
Jeff Orlowski: I was connected to James Balog through a good mutual friend, and we met on occasion in Boulder every time I visited. I was a photographer, and a huge fan of James’s work, and really wanted to work with him. In 2007, he started his project called the Extreme Ice Survey and I offered to help for free. I went with him and a team to Iceland when he started installing his first time lapse cameras, and I filmed the entire trip. It was mostly just to document what he was doing, and to have a record of the project. Then I went with him to Greenland, and then Alaska, and then kept traveling with him, filming everywhere we went.
As time went by, we had collected a great archive of the project, and I knew we could make a great film out of it. There have been so many efforts to document climate change, but this one was unique
As James’ time lapses started to come back from the field, we knew the project was working. So I put all my efforts into making a feature doc, built a world class team to support me, and spent the next few years dedicated to ice.
VD: How many locations did you shoot at and how did you select them?
JO: The list is too long! Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, Glacier National Park in Montana, the Alps, Bolivia, Canada ... Wherever James went, we followed. James selected the locations to install his time lapse cameras based on wanting to capture a very broad representation of glaciers all around the world. He wanted his Extreme Ice Survey to show people how glaciers are responding everywhere not just in one small region; so, we followed him everywhere. Beyond the work in the field, we filmed scientists and experts all around the country who could help explain why James’s work is so critical.
VD: What were your biggest challenges during filming?
JO: The biggest challenge was the harsh environments. We had weather as low as negative 30 degrees. One winter night in Greenland, I thought I was going to freeze to death in our cabin. Our heater was leaking gas so we decided to go to sleep without it. I woke up in the middle of the night from my own teeth chattering. I rubbed my body to stay warm, and suffered until sunrise.
But as cold as it was, and as difficult as it may seem, that was all the fun stuff. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I’d much rather be out shooting than editing!
VD: “Chasing Ice” features some very moving images of how climate change is impacting our natural world. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
JO: As James says, he wants people to realize that these images are visual evidence of climate change. His time lapses capture that process in action. It’s really hard for the average person to see the impact that humans have on the planet, especially when we live in a huge, beautiful country like America. You can drive across the States and spend days just looking out at huge open fields, and think, “How is my little car supposed to be having some sort of impact on all of that?”
Yet, what James has documented is that visual record. It’s something that people can see and feel that represents what the science has concluded. Glaciers may seem really far away, in a distant world that nobody ever goes to, yet we humans are changing them. I hope that “Chasing Ice” can take James’ work and make it real for people; to take the beautiful world of ice and to make it tangible and bring it close to home. If it helps change how people think about their relationship to nature, and how human beings exist on this planet, then I’ll consider it a success.