Smile Politely

Dying in front of your eyes

Sunday was my second straight film experience at a packed Art Theater Co-op. And no, this wasn’t just because they were free showings, although it surely doesn’t hurt getting people in the seats. Either way, the fact remains that people showed up not to see big budget Hollywood movies full of explosions and CGI, but rather for two thought provoking, socially important, and critically acclaimed documentary films that moved me more than I had anticipated.

The Art Theater Co-op is on a roll of late, scheduling film events such as The Room and Back to the Future, Oscar nominated films The Master, Amour, and the nominated shorts, along with the latest installment of a documentary festival. It’s finally settling into its existence as a community owned theater, and General Manager Austin McCann seems to have a well-mapped path for patronage. Do yourself a favor by becoming a member, checking their Facebook page regularly, and visiting as often as you can.

Chasing Ice follows the unflappable environmental photographer James Balog as he embarks on The Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), in which he and his crew set up time-lapse cameras in the Arctic to capture the degradation of the largest glaciers left on Earth, the “infinite forms” that craft this uneasy tale. This is Balog’s attempt to seek reasoning behind the ever-increasing presence of changing landscapes, floods, hurricanes, fires, and rising temperatures that continue to escalate in frequency.

Whether or not you believe in climate change or global warming, this film has something to offer you. Yes, correlation is drawn between the dramatic increase in the CO2 presence captured in ice core of the glaciers and the rise in the Earth’s average temperature. And sure, Balog has an agenda, but his motivations are rooted in his conviction to make a genuine difference and his thirst for adventure. The film isn’t didactic in its approach and doesn’t even weigh itself down with strings of endless facts (though you can go to the film’s site for some of those). Instead, it relies on visual evidence, provided through Balog’s time-lapse photos and director/cinematographer Jeff Orlowski’s beautiful footage. The only concrete number that I even recall was the retreat of a large glacier that traversed a greater distance in the last ten years than it had it the prior 100 years total. And that’s all you really need, because the photos are stunning and unsettling enough.

I found myself surprisingly sad watching Balog’s journey to provide visual evidence to both the doubters and believers of climate change. He serves as a messenger of death, offering a visual journal of falling ancient titans of the arctic sea. The stakes are high with massive glacier retreat, and the glaciers in Chasing Ice seem almost personified in a strange way (and look like floundering sea-drenched whales at times). When glaciers calve (the act of icebergs breaking off and drifting into the sea) there’s a sense of loss. We’re losing something vital that we will never get back. There are only a few films that convey so well the fact that we are living each day on a planet, a living home that is part of an expansive universe, one on which we have influence. Chasing Ice does this seamlessly through Balog’s careful and caring eye. We just have to allow ourselves to see though them.

3.5/4 stars

Chasing Ice plays Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Art Theater Co-op. Free tickets, thanks to the Kendeda Fund, may still be available here.

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