To commemorate the winter season, we’ll be suggesting a different Netflix streaming recommendation set in the snow each week in the month of January. This week’s snowy movie: Chasing Ice, a gorgeous, troubling documentary about glaciers.
We’re lucky to be in the midst of an amazing time for documentaries, but there’s a downside to having all those quality films at our fingertips: The possibility that some truly deserving docs will end up falling into the cracks. I suspect that’s the case for Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Ice, which follows photographer James Balog as he goes around the world documenting glaciers that are rapidly disappearing due to the effects climate change.
If you’ve heard of Chasing Ice at all, it’s probably because of its Oscar-nominated song “Before My Time,” which was performed by Scarlett Johansson. But while the implicit endorsement of an A-list celebrity never hurts a documentary, there’s more than enough to recommend about Chasing Ice on its own merits.
A documentary that tackles global warming might sound like a tough sell — particularly less than a decade after Al Gore’s much-discussed An Inconvenient Truth. Fortunately, there’s more than enough to separate Chasing Ice from its more famous predecessor. For one, it’s visually stunning: Balog’s time-lapse cameras capture glaciers that were once bigger than downtown Manhattan, which have gone through unprecedented erosion in just a few years. Balog, who was initially a climate change skeptic, describes this early effect on glaciers as “the canary in the global coal mine," and the evidence his camera captures — which Balog has made it his life’s work to publicize — is both awe-inspiring and frightening to behold.
But while Chasing Ice comes down firmly against any climate change skeptics, it’s not a mere political screed, either. Balog is a fascinating figure in his own right: A longtime nature photographer who’s willing to risk inflicting irreversible damage on his own body in order to document the effects of climate change. Chasing Ice might sound like something you’d watch in a high school science class, but it’s never dull; between the tragic beauty of its imagery and the fascinating figure at its center, this is the rare documentary that makes an important argument without sacrificing entertainment.
Watch a trailer for Chasing Ice, and listen to Scarlett Johansson’s rendition of “Before My Time” here.
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