A few years ago, when we still lived in Chicago, S got invited to attend a public health conference in Denver. We both went, taking advantage of the opportunity to do a bit of hiking and catch up with friends we had not seen in years. While S was at the conference, D spent the day hanging out with a friend from high school who had moved to nearby Boulder and was working on his first film. At dinner, Jeff told us how, after several years of editing, he had nearly finished putting the footage together, but that he did not like the way he was telling the story and was thinking about re-editing his near-final cut.
Jeff’s hard work paid off. When Chasing Ice finally premiered almost two years later, it garnered much-deserved acclaim, winning the award for best cinematography at Sundance, receiving an Oscar nomination, and compiling an impressively long list of honors at various film festivals. The film follows environmental photographer James Balog across the Arctic on a mission to document the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Balog deploys revolutionary time-lapse cameras designed to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers. The hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate.
When S transitioned from CDC to the Embassy’s Economic Section, where she primarily covered environmental and science issues, one of her first thoughts was how to bring Chasing Ice to Nairobi. D got in touch with Jeff, who connected his production company with S, but getting the DVD was only the tip of the iceberg. S spent many hours in consultations with the U.N. Environment Programme and the Kenya Museum Society, lining up a panel of climate change experts to answer questions after the film screening, which she organized to coincide with World Earth Day, our last weekend in Kenya.
The event got off to a good start: the panelists showed up on time, the Ambassador arrived to deliver opening remarks, and the 300-seat auditorium at the National Museum of Kenya was filled to capacity even before the announced 4pm start time. And other people kept trickling in, sitting in the aisles once all the seats had been filled. The program started promptly on time – a rarity for Kenyan events – and after the opening remarks the lights dimmed and the film began. Two minutes in, just as the opening sequence was coming to a close, the screen suddenly went fuzzy and the loudspeakers filled the auditorium with static.
S ran to the projection booth and was told the DVD, which played fine during a dry run the week before, had a scratch and wouldn’t play on the museum’s DVD system. Thankfully the production team had sent two DVDs. Disc two was fast-forwarded to where the film had left off, and S held her breath for a long while, silently praying that there wouldn’t be any scratches or hitches with the one and only backup.
There weren’t, and for the next 75 minutes, the audience sat transfixed, following Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey team as they traveled by helicopter, canoe, and dog sled across three continents in some of the world’s most extreme weather to capture undeniable evidence of the Earth’s rapidly changing climate. Walking the fine line between rallying those who already are fervent climate change believers and trying to win over climate change skeptics, Jeff’s final cut also focuses on Balog, who was a climate change skeptic himself before deciding to risk his career and health in pursuit of tangible evidence, the story in the ice.
If you haven’t seen this remarkable documentary yet, you should. National Geographic will be showing Chasing Ice this Friday during its “Night of Exploration” and the DVD will be out in September, though if you live in the UK, you can get an advance copy starting June 10.
You can watch the Chasing Ice trailer here.