Shortlisted last year for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, the critically acclaimed Chasing Ice was by far the most existentially devastating documentary of 2012. But its viscerally emotional vistas and Manhattan-sized collapses were passed over by the Academy this year in favor of five other films, none of which have to do with what Chasing Ice director Jeff Orlowski told me was "the most important issue we're ever going to have to deal with as a civilization."
"A nomination would be an incredible longshot," Orlowski told me by phone as 2012 came to a close. "But our hope is that it would bring a lot of significant attention to climate change, because this is the issue of our time."
Fast forward a few months later, and you’ll find an Academy more captivated by documentaries about intractable, important conflicts. But in the planetary big picture, they are dwarfed by the exponential ravages of global warming dramatically shown in Chasing Ice, which documents National Geographic photographer James Balog's Extreme Ice Survey, whose embedded time-lapse cameras visualized astounding Arctic ice loss for the world to see. In formal cinematic terms, it easily competes with the films that leapt off the shortlist and into the Oscars proper.
In terms of bringing invaluable awareness and mobilization -- to say nothing of apocalyptic entertainment -- to an American public and government waking way too slowly to the mammoth environmental challenge of our time, Chasing Ice remains peerless. After all, it was only a few years ago that both the Academy and attending talent gushed over Best Documentary winner An Inconvenient Truth, whose charismatic lead Al Gore argued during an acceptance speech with director Davis Guggenheim that, "We need to solve the climate crisis. It's not a political issue; it's a moral issue."
The moral and political weight of Chasing Ice was apparent even to followers of climate change deniers like Fox News.