Nature photographer James Balog is at the center of the documentary "Chasing Ice" that follows the micro-movements of massive glaciers. (Photo courtesy of the Normal Theater)
By Dawn Riordan
NORMAL - Having shown lots of movies over the years, I could say I have really had a global experience, albeit all done in the comfort of a theater seat. I confess I envy and respect the people who actually go out to make those movies.
They take the chances while I reap the benefits.
No one to date could be more impressive in this endeavor than James Balog. The National Geographic photographer's recent film, "Chasing Ice" has to be some sort of topper to the cake of his adventurous life. In "Chasing Ice," Balog’s mission is to photograph changes in the world’s glaciers.
Glaciers always move. They shift, they crack, they grow and they melt. It’s something that is hard for most people to fathom, because apparently most times, watching a glacier is akin to watching paint dry. Balog uses time lapse photography to do the waiting, with stationed cameras wiling a way the time by taking a snap shot every so often. When these photos are pieced together in a motion picture format, the results are a cumulative look at the motion of glaciers.
It’s an amazing thing on many levels – from the global warming debate to something I didn’t expect to get out of the film. You see that there is a mighty adventure attached to the very act of documenting these very slow events -- an adventure that includes a small photo crew defying extreme weather, terrain and ultimate danger to bring this thing to our screen.
This intrigues me because when I look at photography of nature, I admire it, but I really don’t think about what it takes to get the shot. And sometimes, that is just as fascinating as the photo itself.
Balog is no spring chicken as the saying goes, but he looks healthy and fit, except for a chronically bad knee. In "Chasing Ice" he travels over extremely rocky and possibly unstable terrain, hangs off the side of glaciers and mountains and tries to remain upright during a horizontal wind storm. Remember, it’s mighty cold in these regions, even though the glaciers are melting.
Some of his photos from this project have been published in National Geographic. I remember seeing them and thinking how glorious these glaciers are; their beauty hypnotic. Never once did I think about the man behind the camera, so powerful was the image. Yet, when I watched "Chasing Ice," my thoughts of global warming were understandably shared with my awe-struck opinion of James Balog.
Here is a hero of a different sort. If his photos and this movie aren’t proof enough that something is going wrong, it’s only because we're not used to listening to science without having to inject political judgment. Not everything has to have a political agenda.
Whether you want to see a strikingly beautiful and stark documentary on global weather changes; or just want to see what it takes to get amazing photographs defying harsh odds, you will be amazed by this documentary.
"Chasing Ice" screens at the Normal Theater in Uptown Normal this Thursday through Sunday at 7 p.m. each evening. It has won six awards from various film festivals and is on the fast-track to getting an Oscar nod.
Dawn Riordan is manager of the Normal Theater.