James Balog’s Chasing Ice Wins Sundance Documentary Award

EIS Founder & Director James Balog at Jøkulsårlon, Iceland. Photograph by Svavar Jónatansson. © 2005 Extreme Ice Survey

In the spring of 2005, James Balog, a Boston College alumnus and award-winning photographer, launched The Extreme Ice Survey, a project that would use revolutionary time-lapse cameras to document changes in the glacial landscape of the Arctic.

The survey resulted in spectacular footage that became the documentary Chasing Ice, winner of Sundance’s Excellence in Cinematography Award for U.S. Documentary Filmmaking. Although Balog was originally skeptical of the research behind the idea of global climate change, his multi-year record of shrinking glaciers offers haunting evidence of the effects of our planet’s increasing carbon buildup.

EIS field assistant, Adam LeWinter on NE rim of Birthday Canyon, atop feature called "Moab". Greenland Ice Sheet, July 2009. Black deposit in bottom of channel is cryoconite. Birthday Canyon is approximately 150 feet deep. Photograph by James Balog, © 2009 James Balog/Extreme Ice Survey.

For some, “This is the movie every environmentalist has wanted to show” to doubters of the reality of global climate change. They see it as proof that “the science is certain, and the images are inarguable.” [Sean P. Means, The Salt Lake Tribune]

The documentary, worth seeing “for the cinematography alone,” [Means, SLT] is also a powerful account of Balog’s personal confrontation with the harsh conditions of the Arctic, and his attempts to master innovative time-lapse technology amid the freezing (but not quite as freezing) temperatures. As the years of compressed footage show, Balog must withstand daily reminders of his own mortality to deliver the evidence of climate change to his audience and to offer hope for the future.

A. EIS field technician, Adam LeWinter on iceberg, Columbia Bay, Alaska; June 19, 2008. Photograph by James Balog, © 2008 James Balog/Extreme Ice Survey

The documentary is directed by Jeff Orlowski, a cinematographer and award-winning filmmaker who has worked with Balog since 2007. The Extreme Ice Survey project was a collaboration between scientists and artists, including videographers, photographers, and a team of extreme-weather expedition specialists.

Scouting Survey Canyon. James Balog on left, Jeff Orlowski on right. Greenland Ice Sheet, June 2009. Photograph by Adam LeWinter/Extreme Ice Survey © 2009 Extreme Ice Survey

Chasing Ice has garnered wide acclaim, earning a Sundance rating of 3 ½ stars and getting the attention of National Geographic, which purchased the television rights to the film.

A communications and biology major at Boston College, Balog has been building a career in photography since his days at Boston College, and he has brandished a “show, don’t tell” philosophy since his first nature expeditions. He picked up photography when he realized he needed a way to share his mountain climbing excursions with an audience. A self-taught photographer, he carved out a niche for himself at the intersection of art and science. After earning a Master’s degree in Geology at the Colorado University at Boulder, he became a photography contributor to various publications, including National Geographic, Time, The Smithsonian, Audubon, Outside, Stern, Geo, and Paris-Match.

Rappelling into Survey Canyon, looking down at moulin channel dropping meltwater 2000 vertical feet into crevasses through Greenland Ice Sheet. EIS director, James Balog, is shown. Photograph by Jeff Orlowski/Extreme Ice Survey, © 2009 Extreme Ice Survey

Balog has also published seven books, including Extreme Ice Now: Vanishing Glaciers and Changing Climate: A Progress Report, published by National Geographic Books in 2009. “ICE: Portraits of the World’s Vanishing Glaciers,” will be released this fall.

In 2005, Balog received the Arts Council Alumni Award for excellence in the arts. He exhibited his then current work, “TREE: A New Vision of the American Rainforest,” at Boston College’s annual Arts Festival. Balog’s continued success and his work in promoting the arts while supporting environmental awareness exemplify the impact a BC graduate can have on the world. We look forward to his continued success.

For more information, visit Balog’s personal site, or the site for the new documentary, Chasing Ice.


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