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Sundance 2012: Look Again, there is no Planet B

This year's Sundance Film Festival theme, LOOK AGAIN was intended to mean < Look again at the world and your place within it> question your pre-conceived notions and assumptions, shake up and readjust your perception on issues, but to more reality based observers, it could also be interpreted as the broken lives, broken homes, broken Banking/ Financial/Economic institutions,its broken health care, schooling, welfare, criminal justice and prison systems- all corroded by greed, corruption, and un-monitored de-regulation that allows Corporations to increase and expand their power.

This was reflected largely in the strong documentary section with: A Fierce Green Fire, The House I live In, The Atomic States of America, Finding North, The Invisible War, Love Free or Die, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, Detropia, We're Not Broke, Slavery by Another Name, The Queen of Versailles, Big Boys Gone Bananas, How to Survive a Plague.

A poignant moment occurs in one documentary when the town's fire department turns up and stands by watching a home burn to the ground because the owners did not pay the $75.00 (50 euros) fee, the ‘Pay for Spray'. A woman says, "are we going to stick together and be a community or is it going to be Every Man for Himself ?

Covering the International perspective, there was: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, ½ Revolution, 5 Broken Cameras, The Ambassador, The Law in These Parts, Putin's Kiss and the most wonderful Searching for Sugar Man, one of the few films that leaves you euphoric with restored faith in the power of music to bring about revolutionary change and overthrow oppressive regimes.

Among the 196 films screened, there are dozens of films worth discovering and they can all be found on the Sundance website along with this year's winners, as there is no space here. What IS new and different is how new technology has reduced the time it takes to complete a film. Some filmmakers said they make a film from start to finish in a period of months. This means the film's (subject or issue) is a lot closer in time to when we watch it, it is fresher in the minds of the audience, it is more ‘relevant'. Before, it would take several years for films to get out to the public and the sense of impact and urgency to the event, ( Chernobyl, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima) might have diminished with time.

For me, the most extraordinary, life changing film this year, perhaps because the breathtaking imagery told the story better than words, was CHASING ICE.

The urgency is echoed by demonstrator's placards at Copenhagen's climate change conference : THERE IS NO PLANET B (if this gets ‘lost in translation', this is a pun on ‘ Plan B' , alternative escape route when catastrophe strikes)

Director - Cinematographer Jeff Orlowski follows James Balog, (geographer, geomorphologist, mountaineer, award winning nature photographer) as he embarks on his EIS project to visually capture and reveal evidence of dramatic climate change by photographing ice and glaciers.

Orlowski says " I was a huge fan of James Balog's work and in 2007 when he started the Extreme Ice Survey, I just offered to help for free. I went with him and a team to Iceland and filmed the entire trip mostly just to document what he was doing and have a record of the project".

This led to trips to Greenland, Alaska, Montana, the Alps, Bolivia, and Canada. Balog's project EIS is the most wide-ranging, ground based photographic study ever conducted: the idea was to install customized time lapse camera systems that were drilled into mountain sides above the glaciers and ice sheets, that would photograph and record movement and change over periods of months and years. Returning to check the equipment's durability under the extreme conditions, sub-zero temperatures, gale force winds, blizzards, snow, and torrential rain was sometimes a frustrating and discouraging experience. The cameras were sometimes damaged, broken or just did not function, but Balog did not give up despite his own physical limitations and knee injuries. We see him climb back to the different locations (sometimes hobbling in crutches in snow) to collect data regularly from the cameras.

The time lapse photography is stunning and dramatic, it lets us watch events that have never before been captured as moving video images. We witness glaciers retreating, the breaking up or ‘calving' of massive ice sheets. Months and years are condensed into minutes and seconds. Once the realization sets in as to how threatening this is to the equilibrium of the planet, the overall effect it is quite shocking.

Balog's study demonstrates how sea levels are rising sharply as the planet becomes warmer which means flooding in coastal planes around several continents and at least 150 million people will be dislocated by 2100. Extreme weather events like floods, tornados, hurricanes, and wild fires will be more frequent and severe. Most glaciers in the Alps will vanish by 2050.There are reduced supplies for drinking water and agriculture as end of season snow packs in the Pacific Northwest have decreased 50% since 1950. The sea surface warming makes the ice sheet thinner, the end of summer Arctic Ocean sea ice may be gone by the summer of 2020.

The pivotal moment in the film is watching the actual calving event of the Ilulissat Glacier in Iceland. We see this 11 mile ice wall break up and enormous bergs as tall as skyscrapers float off and melt into the North Atlantic ocean. Ilulissaat is responsible for putting more ice into the global ocean than any other glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. There is no longer any doubt that our planet and eco system is in crisis. Climate catastrophes will only get worse as carbon dioxide levels and greenhouse gases threaten human life as we know it.

The stunning beauty of James Balog's photography of ice is aesthetically one of reasons why this film is so embraced by audiences but the message is also deeply troubling. There was no doubt that any other film could win the Best Achievement in Cinematography Award for Chasing ICE and the well deserving Jeff Orlowski as he took his award, remarked "youthful brashness can take you a long way".

Madelyn Most


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