Global Warming is not a core interest of mine. I have no doubt that it is happening and that it is cause by us shitty old humans. But for whatever reason, I have never felt particularly moved to either read or watch much about it.
However I recently watched the fantastic documentary Chasing Ice (2012) on the subject which may lead me to explore the topic a little more. The film takes quite a different approach to the issue compared to most. The focus of the film is photographer James Balog who begins an epic effort to set up time-lapse cameras pointed on various glaciers throughout the northern hemisphere. Balog, at one time a climate change denier, is a scientist by trade who ended up devoting his life to photography. His interest has always been the interaction between humans and nature and climate change is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of that. The reason he never really pursued science is due to its obsession (in his view) with statistics and computer modelling. This is also something that plagues discourse around global warming to a degree (no doubt with some understandable reasons underpinning that) which is part of the reason why I am not generally too fussed watching or reading about it. Photographing the change in glacier conditions is a great way to put in perspective what is really going on with our planet. There is interesting interrogations of the science as well though. But even that is a little different to the norm. This is about the concept of ‘air change’ and what ice cores can tell us about climate change over the centuries, which was all new to me.
Chasing Ice is only 75 minutes long but manages to cram a hell of a lot into the lean running time. It gets into the nitty gritty of Balog assembling his team and the high tech equipment that he needed. It also follows the expedition to set up the cameras in a number of countries (4 or 5 from memory). This part of the film almost needs to be a whole film in itself. It is so interesting and it is a perfect setup for a longer focus. That is almost my only criticism of the film. It could be longer or even a TV series with each episode focusing on a different aspect of the story – the global warming background, the kernel of the idea, the planning, initial expedition to put the cameras out, maintenance through the years and the final results. Having said that, all of those aspects are touched on satisfyingly, if briefly, throughout the film. And my, as you may imagine, this is a really pretty film. The imagery is incredible and varied too. Often with docos such as this, the imagery is a little repetitive. But as Balog touches on, there are seemingly infinite variations to the look of glacial ice and many of them make an appearance here. I wish I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen actually. The film closes off with the fruits of Balog’s labour. His time-lapse images are stark in the extreme. A sobering lesson that something is very wrong with our world.
It is not often that I give full marks to a film that I think is definitely imperfect. But when my issue is that the film is too short, then the film has done its job really well. Not content just to rest on the laurels of its interesting subjects, Chasing Ice tells this story really well and even better than that, it does it in a really engaging way. If you are after a global warming doco that is not all graphs, doomsday projections (though it is blunt about the future) and arguing between factions, give this a shot.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter