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In 'Chasing Ice,' climate change gets its close up

Associated Press Published: November 5, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — There is a scene in the documentary "Chasing Ice" that shows the edge of the massive Ilulissat glacier in Greenland collapsing — or "calving" — and violently crashing into the sea below. The piece of ice that breaks away is compared to the size of lower Manhattan, and appears taller than any building there.

The video of the glacier, also called by its Danish name, Jakobshavn, is what photographer James Balog calls "irrefutable" evidence of climate change. Balog is the subject of "Chasing Ice," which won the Excellence in Cinematography Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski followed Balog as he set up more than 20 time-lapse cameras in remote locations around Alaska, Montana, Nepal, Iceland and Greenland to capture images of Arctic glaciers as they change. Balog designed each camera to withstand extreme conditions, including sub-zero temperatures and 150 mph winds, and to snap about 8,000 frames a year, some of which have been featured in National Geographic magazine.

The film opens Friday in New York City and the following week in select cities.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Orlowski and Balog talked about the film and their experiences making it.

AP: Climate change did not come up during any of the three presidential debates. Do you regret not releasing the film earlier?

Orlwoski: I don't think that this is a political issue. It's been turned into a political issue but it shouldn't be. We were considering releasing it before the election but that would have associated the film with a very specific political agenda and we're trying to stay a little bit more neutral in that regard.

AP: Talk about the technical challenges you faced.

Balog: I had a number of electronic engineers that were advising and consulting on this thing and these are guys who have been involved with sending equipment to Mars, sending things to the bottom of the ocean, sending remote equipment across Antarctica on these little wheeled contraptions going across the ice, and in the end they said, 'We can't calculate what you need. We can't figure it out just by bench-testing and mathematical formulas. All you can really do is build something and put it out there and see if it works.'

AP: There's a scene when you completely break down. What happened?

Balog: That's in May of 2007. ... I felt incredibly, intensely the pressure of man, this stuff has to work. I'm not here to be a scientist doing a field experiment. Nothing is of any value, any meaning, any purpose unless I can be sure that I come home with pictures. ... I'm not just there with my head on the camera crying because I'm upset that the camera is malfunctioning. I'm upset because I'm thinking the entire commitment, the entire obligation is going to fail. We're going to put out 12 cameras in Greenland and come back with garbage, so that was terribly stressful and upsetting.

Orlowski: It's gut-wrenching. It's hard for me to watch James in that scene, personally.

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