Global Warming Film Wins Best Environmental Documentary Award

The feature film Chasing Ice amazes and shocks.

Durham is a happening place. How so? Well … there’s Duke University of course. And we’re among the “foodiest” cities in the country, according to Bon Appetit magazine. According to the Daily Beast, we’re one of the “brainiest” cities. We are highly livable and are tops in homegrown coffee-roasting innovation. (More self-promotion here.) We’re also home to one heck of a documentary film festival dedicated to the theatrical exhibition of outstanding nonfiction films screened in some beautiful historic venues in downtown Durham.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

If you’re into documentary films, the Full Frame Festival is something you want to check out. For four days each spring, the festival (said to be the country’s largest dedicated to nonfiction film) brings a cornucopia of non-stop showings of some of the world’s best documentaries, new, recent, and old, to downtown Durham. (This year’s fest, for instance, included a tribute to filmmaker Stanley Nelson with screenings of Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple [2007], Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice [2005], A Place of Our Own [2004], and The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords [1999].)

The gamut of the 100+ films typically shown each year is wide, and this year’s lineup was no exception. Among the 105 films showcased at this year’s festival, held April 12-15, were short films (like Lucy Walker’s Oscar-nominated “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” about the resilience of the Japanese people and the blessings of nature in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake and tsunami) and features, such as Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s Detropia, a film about Detroit’s precipitous decline and massive challenges, and Peter Nicks’s The Waiting Room, which captures in stark relief the everyday problems of our health care system as viewed through a day in an Oakland, California emergency room. There were films that made me laugh with joy, like Neil Berkeley’s Beauty Is Embarrassing, and films that brought tears like Mira Jargil’s short “The Time We Have (Den tid vi har)” and Fernand Melgar’s feature Special Flight.

And then there were the environmental films.

Award for Best Environmental Film

Among the different awards given at the festival is one sponsored by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment for the best environmental film.

This year’s award went to Chasing Ice. Directed by Jeff Orlowski and produced by Paula DuPre’ Pesmen and Jerry Aronson, Chasing Ice documents photographer James Balog’s quest to capture the story of climate change in images. To do this, Balog traveled to the far reaches of the globe’s ice spots where he installed time-lapse cameras able to withstand some of the harshest conditions on the planet to record the appallingly rapid retreat of glaciers in such places as Greenland, Iceland, the Nepalese Himalaya, Montana’s Glacier National Park, and Alaska over a period of roughly three years. (Read more about the film.)

Why Chasing Ice

In making its selection, our jury* was looking for a film that addressed an important environmental theme. Chasing Ice hit the sweet spot on that one with its theme on global warming. But the film had a lot more going for it.

We were looking for a film with a narrative about an individual whose profound connection to the earth inspires her or him to extraordinary feats — this one tells the extraordinary story of one man’s quest to document the changes the world is undergoing as a result of a warming world in a way that is clear and visceral.

And we were looking for a film that captured the world in images that are beautiful and inspiring — in this film the imagery was both those things and more. I was awestruck.

In fact, so effective was this film that, while it addressed a topic that I as a scientist have thought about and worked on for decades, I left the theatre after watching it with a greater appreciation for what is going on in our world — visuals have a way of doing that. The ending sequence of a calving event in Greenland was worth the price of admission (and more) by itself.

Balog’s goal in making this film was to provide clear and compelling evidence that global warming is happening and happening on a huge scale. And to do so in a way that even the most dyed-in-the-wool skeptic could not deny. Will he succeed? Hard to say; that’s a tall order (although a recent poll suggests that Americans may be getting the message). But skeptic or no, I recommend you place this one on your must-see list.

__________

Note
The five members of the jury for the Nicholas School of the Environment award are:

Cindy Horn
Sundance Institute, Board member
Environmental Media Association, Co-founder and board member

Steve Nemeth
Producer, actor, director
Rhino Films, Founder and head

Rebecca Patton
World Conservation Network, Director and chief operating officer

Tom Rankin
Duke Center for Documentary Studies, Director

Bill Chameides
Duke’s Nicholas School, Dean

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