A Greenland glacier receded eight miles over the course of 100 years, only to retreat a staggering nine during the first decade of the 21st century. If appalling facts such as these don’t turn a few heads, then the alarming images of “Chasing Ice” certainly will.
Using multiple time-lapse cameras throughout Iceland, Greenland and Alaska, photographer James Balog and his team have been chronicling the rapid shrinking of glaciers since 2007 – providing concrete evidence to the devastating effects of climate change.
Paula DuPré Pesmen has served as associate producer for movies such as “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Rent” and three installments of the “Harry Potter” franchise. She had her first foray into environmental issue films with “The Cove,” for which she won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Next month, her latest project “Chasing Ice” will be competing for Best Original Song at the Oscars for its tune “Before My Time,” performed by Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell, and penned by J. Ralph.
Pesmen recently spoke with the East Valley Tribune about “Chasing Ice,” why the film is personal to her and how audiences can make a difference.
Q: So to begin with, how did you get involved with “Chasing Ice”?
A: My oldest son went to preschool with James Balog’s daughter and so I’ve known him for many years. James asked me to meet him for a cup of coffee and he brought (“Chasing Ice” director) Jeff (Orlowski), and he showed me some footage on a laptop and they said they were going to try and make it into a film with the footage that they’d been gathering. As soon as I saw the images, I just was so connected. I just wanted to help in any way that I could and get involved.
I came home and told my husband, “I have to help on this project” and I was going to volunteer because it was for our children. Immediately, I just felt this sense of urgency in the footage and I knew that I needed to do something for my kids, so this was how I could help.
Q: Have you always been a strong advocate for climate change issues?
A: I was still on “The Cove” at the time and we were still in distribution, and so that was my first documentary working in the environment field with animals. When I saw the footage I was not as educated on what’s going on in the environment now and with the climate, I was not. I’ve learned so much through the filmmaking process. From the scientists and the people that we’ve interviewed and talked to and through James and his work about what was going on, I was quite horrified. I was just a mom and a film producer. They put those images in front of me and it woke me up. I was not informed in the way that I should have been with what’s going on with the planet.
Q: What sorts of reactions have you gotten from audiences and what advice do you have for those that wish to get involved in this issue?
A: I have been so moved by the audiences, especially since the film started screening in theaters around the country and we all started covering Q&A’s in different cities. It’s been really amazing to show the film to the audiences. They understand the urgency in this issue by seeing James’ work and they want to get involved. They want to know what to do, how to help, how to solve this. I think it’s been a really positive tool in bringing people to a clearer understanding of this issue and they want to know how they can plug into it, how they can get involved.
I think what’s been most helpful is to show them how all of us brought our skills to the issue. Myself as a producer, our attorneys on the film who donated their legal services, Scarlett Johansson who sang the song, our composer, the other producer – everyone has used their skills to bring this issue forward and we just say the same to audiences. Look at your life, look at your skills, and figure out what you can do and how you can get involved.
Q: Can you tell me about the involvement of J. Ralph, Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell with the score and Oscar-nominated song, “Before My Time”?
A: J. Ralph – he’s the composer on the film – he had this idea for the song for the end credits. He played it and it was so beautiful, and we saw the lyrics. He reached out to Scarlett to see if she wanted to sing it, and he showed her some footage and she wanted to sing it, which was great. It was such a gift, and then Joshua Bell gave his time playing the beautiful violin in the piece. It was a really generous gift to help support the film and to bring awareness to the issue, and give their time as they did. We’re very grateful to them and it’s so exciting that they’ve been nominated for the Academy Award for that song.
Q: There are many shocking truths revealed in “Chasing Ice,” but are there are images or moments that particularly affected you?
A: There were a few things. One was that the beautiful black circles in the ice were what they were and that they were causing this erosion. That was pretty shocking, but for me, the most emotional thing was when the film was completed – and we screened it at Sundance last year – and I was watching it with my son, who was 10 at the time. That calving (of the glaciers) started and it just kept going and going and going. I could feel the tears just streaming down my face. I looked at my son and just realized: This is what he’s inheriting. He looked up at me and said, “I get it, Mom.” I’ll never forget that because that’s why I was doing it. It was powerful, and that was exactly why I wanted to be a part of it and help in any way that I could.