Sundance Film Fest 2012: “Chasing Ice” and “Atomic States”

-- Image of Greenland from "Chasing Ice" documentary by Jeff Orlowski.

The Sundance Film Festival kicked off January 19 with the founder and environmentalist Robert Redford setting the tone.

“It’s no secret, times are dark and grim,” he said. “In addition, we’re suffering from a government in paralysis…But the happy thing is that here, for this week, we’re going to see work from artists, even though their work might be reflective of these hard times, there is not paralysis here.”

Three of the films in the documentary section of the program deal with environmental issues. One which I already wrote about in Treehugger, A Fierce Green Fire, gives a big picture, 50-year perspective on the environmental movement from conservation to radical activism, deforestation to endangered wildlife. Two other films, Chasing Ice on melting glaciers, and The Atomic States of America about nuclear power, put the dire impacts on the environment into sharp focus.

“Chasing Ice”

“How can one take a picture of climate change?” was the question National Geographic photographer James Balog asked. Chasing Ice shows his attempt to visually capture the Arctic’s shrinking glaciers, revealing the rapid retreat. Though he had been a skeptic and cynic of the research, his assignment offered dramatic images of the melting ice, evidence of climate change, and turned into a mission.

Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski chronicles the story of The Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). Through time-lapse cameras, Balog provides a multi-year record using 30 cameras across three continents. Facing brutal conditions to show the haunting and beautiful videos, he compressed years into seconds as ancient mountains of ice vanish at a breathtaking rate. The film, written by Mark Monroe (The Cove, The Tillman Story), debuts January 23.

“The Atomic States of America”

“We all live downstream from something,” says Kelly McMasters, author of Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town. Her book about growing up a nuclear-reactor community inspired filmmakers Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce to make The Atomic States of America. It's a timely topic with Japan's Fukushima disaster and the safety of new nuclear power plants being considered in the U.S. for the first time in more than 32 years.

As the Atomic Clock moved forward recently, the issue of nuclear power goes into high relief. The Atomic States of America points to the risks and realities, the health consequences, the history of this allegedly clean source of energy, regulation, and our aging sites.

Screens with Newtown Creek Digester Eggs: The Art of Human Waste by director David W. Leitner. A film about a wastewater treatment plant that uses the newest technology and award-winning architecture, showing how government and activists can work together.

Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant© David W. Leitner
-- Long Island's Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

So, all is not dark and grim.

Also screening at Sundance is Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, which looks at the potential for the dark and grim to meet the grit and pluck with post-industrial Detroit's efforts. It may reflect the fading of the American dream or show the way to real urban renewal and a radically different future.

Sundance Film Fest 2012: “Chasing Ice” and “Atomic States”
Two eco-documentaries premiere at Sundance chronicle a toxic environmental problem and the dramatic impact of climate change