By Lindsay Claiborn
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Al Gore won an Oscar with a documentary that used bar graphs and pie charts to illustrate climate change and the fate of the Earth.
Six years after Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," a new film, "Chasing Ice," goes beyond the data and the diagrams to document the disappearance of the world's glaciers with time-lapse photography.
Nature photographer James Balog has been capturing the grandeur of glaciers and ice floes since 2007. He started the Extreme Ice Survey the same year, which is considered the most wide-ranging photographic study of glaciers.
What started as a video record of Balog and his team's Arctic excursions instead turned into "Chasing Ice," a chronicling of the effort to capture and consolidate time-lapse photos over months and years of vanishing polar landscapes.
The film is released in large U.S. cities on Friday with a national rollout later in November.
Balog came to the idea of illustrating the changing ice floes with time-lapse montages while shooting single images of glaciers for magazines like National Geographic.
"It was pretty evident to me that single frame could only take you a very little distance into telling the story of that ice. I started to get the idea that I would be coming back and repeating some of these camera positions in years to come," Balog told Reuters.
"And yet after I got done editing the film for the story ... I realized maybe time-lapse would be better than just revisiting these sites over and over again."
The composite images, which are made up of still photographs taken every hour or so over the course of months, show how much glaciers have shrunk. Balog and his crew were equally floored by the images they had captured.
"We were really stunned especially right in the beginning, but now, six years into this, we're still stunned when we see these pictures and see how the landscape has changed. It's bringing to life something that is otherwise invisible, otherwise really unimaginable," he said.
"Chasing Ice" won the audience award for best documentary at the 2012 SXSW festival, and the documentary cinematography award at the Sundance festival in January.
Although climate change was rarely mentioned in the recent U.S. presidential election campaign, the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast has placed the environment back in the headlines.
Balog and "Chasing Ice" director Jeff Orlowski both made it clear that their film was not intended as a political statement.
"That wasn't the goal. But based on the response to the film, based on how much people are resonating with it, we're really curious to see how far it can go to influence this issue," Orlowski said.
Balog argued that the climate change debate needs to rise above partisan lines.
"This is a universal issue that has profound implications for the health and wellbeing and safety of everyone on the planet. We can't avoid it, we have to deal with it."
(Reporting by Lindsay Claiborn, editing by Jill Serjeant and Matthew Lewis)