Houses swept away by floodwaters; record drought, wildfire and hurricanes; melting ice caps; and the hottest summer on record — can anyone still doubt global warming?
Photographer James Balog, once a skeptic, sets out to prove it through his Extreme Ice Survey, capturing photographic evidence of melting, disappearing glaciers. Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski, 28, documents the lengths to which Balog goes to prove his point — including kicking off his boots to plunge into the Arctic water for one chilling shot in “Chasing Ice.”
Despite a bum knee, Balog hikes atop ice caps in Alaska, Iceland, and Greenland, placing specially developed cameras that will endure the harsh conditions and record the glacier meltdown through time-lapse photography.
Winner of the Excellence in Cinematography Award for U.S. Documentary Filmmaking at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, “Chasing Ice” will be screened at the seventh annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival on Saturday, February 2, at 7 p.m.
Thirty-five films will be shown over three long weekends, Thursday, January 24 through Sunday, February 10, at the Princeton Public Library.
“Chasing Ice,” says festival founder and director Susan Conlon, “is the best visual representation of climate change I’ve ever seen.” It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor, as his time-lapse videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear before our eyes.
Filmmaker Orlowski, a Staten Island native who lives in Boulder, Colorado, first got involved with the project while studying anthropology at Stanford, volunteering and then editing the time-lapse footage. Setting out to accompany Balog to the Arctic, he had never before experienced such cold. “I am a climber but had never ice climbed, let alone climbed while shooting,” he says.
One of the scariest moments was watching Balog climb down the canyon and onto a broken piece of ice as he looked into a shaft in the glacier. “None of us were sure if it was going to break,” says Orlowski. “Everyone was on the edge of their seats.”
Indeed the entire crew engaged in risky behavior to help Balog fulfill his mission. Note to Orlowski’s parents, a retired teacher and banking industry professional: do not read the following quote from your son. “In retrospect, there were a lot of life-threatening experiences.”
At the end of the film, Balog says he went to such lengths so his children would know he did all he could to inform the world about climate change. Those who continue to deny climate change “do not have access to the science,” says Orlowski. “Most of climate science is in numbers and graphs and in such technical terms that people don’t understand it and think it is not true. Now we have evidence that is accessible to all people.”
The theme for this year’s Princeton Environmental Film Festival is sense of place. When we think of environmental issues such as climate change, reckless development, and green energy affecting our own state, town, even neighborhood, they become more threatening.
“Many of the films tell stories about people and places outside our state and reveal how we are more connected than we realize,” says Conlon.
Some of the films that fall into this category are “You’ve Been Trumped” (directed by Anthony Baxter) in which a group of townspeople in Scotland band together when developer Donald Trump begins construction of an elaborate golf resort on a fragile piece of wilderness in Scotland; “Detropia” (directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady), told through the eyes of people struggling to stay in post-industrial Motor City, once a grand city; and “The Battle for Brooklyn” (directors Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley), about the struggle of residents fighting to preserve their neighborhood from the developer of Atlantic Yards, including the Barclays Center sports arena.
There are several films about New Orleans in this year’s lineup, including “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful” (by Jonathan Demme), in which the title character — the last to leave her neighborhood as Hurricane Katrina approached in summer, 2005 — was the first to return to her flood-devastated community with what many thought was the impossible dream of bringing her ruined home back to life.
Princeton resident Andrea Odezynska made “Felt, Feelings and Dreams,” following a small group of Kyrgyz women who pull themselves out from crushing poverty by reviving ancient traditions of making crafts and art from felt.
Against scenes of rocky mountains dotted with yurts and traditional ethnic music from the region, women of all ages are filmed pouring their might into shearing, soaking, and beating the wool fibers, rendering it into colorful textiles.
Odezynska is a Philadelphia native, but her parents are from Ukraine. “I studied the language and culture on Saturdays for 12 years,” says Odezynska. “Looking back, it was both special and too insular. When I went to Bennington College I was very excited about meeting ‘Americans.’ But, at the same time, Ukraine is one of many countries where due to modernization, interesting and rich traditions and folklore are fast disappearing.”
So it was heartening to discover women felt makers “using tried-and-true traditions to make it in a modern world” in Kyrgyzstan.
Perhaps the shortest film in the festival is “Living Tiny” (directors Paul Meyers and Paul Donatelli). A new vision of home is explored through three generations of Californians who seek an alternative to traditional construction. Even the film, at seven minutes, is sparse in its environmental impact.
You are what you eat, and what you eat is only as good as the soil from which it grew. Judith Robinson, who heads the Princeton Farmers Market, will moderate a discussion among local farmers between screenings of “To Make a Farm” and “Symphony of the Soil,” exploring the complexity and mystery of the foundation of life on earth. The film portrays soil as a protagonist of our planetary story, says its blurb.
And following on the heels of “Gasland,” screened here two years ago, “Dear Governor Cuomo” takes up fracking at this year’s festival.
In the six years since the festival was begun, “we have learned a lot about what makes it appealing to people returning from previous years and those just discovering it,” says Conlon. She will put that understanding to use when she begins planning next year’s festival in March, juggling this with her duties as team leader of the youth services department and the Princeton Student Film and Video Festival she organizes. “It is a balance between planning, scheduling, and tuning into the vision and voices of the filmmakers.”
Films are selected by looking at what is offered at other film festivals, inviting filmmakers and distributors to send screeners, and by staying in touch with filmmakers whose previous works were screened at PEFF. The library also posts a call for entries on its website and through social media. “Many of these films are made by new and emerging filmmakers who are seeking an audience and trying to break into the festival circuit,” says Conlon, who attends festivals as time and travel permit.
“This year I went to screenings in New York when some of the films had their theatrical runs,” says Conlon. “It’s a bonus to be able to see the films in these settings, often with the filmmakers attending, and get a sense of how the audience reacts to the film. I highly recommend DOC NYC, it’s a fairly new festival and happens in late fall at NYU.”
Conlon shares the films with her committee, who view and discuss them. “We also begin to build programming ideas and identify speakers to accompany the films. Everyone on our committee has input, and our planning is a creative process.”
While key films are identified and locked in by late summer, room is left in the schedule for films that come onto the horizon later. “Several films came to our attention later in 2012, such as ‘Dear Governor Cuomo,’ ‘Hardwater,’ and ‘Birders, the Central Park Effect.’”
The most important criterion for selecting films is the quality of the film, and emphasis on storytelling. “We do not set out with a list of issues or a checklist. What we want the films, on their own and as part of the whole festival, to do is encourage us to explore and expand our concepts of sustainability.”
Most films are accompanied by a Q&A with film directors and producers, as well as talks by invited speakers.
As attendees become impassioned by what they see, “our community organizations such as Sustainable Princeton, Stonybrook-Millstone Watershed Association, D&R Greenway Land Trust, school gardens, and others are great gateways for people to get involved,” says Conlon. “There are resources provided on many of the films’ websites that offer opportunities to learn more about issues explored in the films. And some people have been inspired to tell their stories by making their own films, seeking opportunities to learn about filmmaking and access equipment at Princeton’s TV-30.”
Princeton Environmental Film Festival, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Thursdays through Sundays, January 24 to 27, January 31 to February 3, and February 7 to 10. Free. The complete schedule can be found at community.princetonlibrary.org/peff/schedule.