Documentary Review: ‘Ice On Fire’ From Leonardo DiCaprio

Review by James Lindorf

In 2007 Leonardo DiCaprio partnered with Director Leila Conners on the documentary The 11th Hour to aim a spotlight the problem of climate change. Twelve years later, they are back with Ice on Fire, a new documentary about how the world is teetering on the edge of a climate catastrophe and many of the never-before-seen solutions designed to slow down the escalating environmental crisis. Ice on Fire, an Official Selection of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, premieres on HBO next Tuesday, June 11th at 8pm with a run time of 95 minutes.

Ice on Fire is broken into two distinct parts. First is a discussion about carbon and its role in climate change. Since their last film, the world has passed a critical point of 400 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere, resulting in climate instability around the world. The summer of 2018 was the hottest on record, storms are stronger and more frequent, droughts are more prolonged, wildfires are common, the arctic ice is thin or non-existent, and Antarctica is melting faster than predicted. However, after making the switch to looking at ways CO2 can be pulled out of the atmosphere, the second part of the film exists to provide hope and stimulate ideas.

Filmed across nearly a dozen countries and all types of climates, Cinematographer Harun Mehmedinovic created a film as pleasant to look at as any of the top-tier nature documentaries. The use of drones and time-lapse photography allowed the team to capture stunning high definition footage that is rarely, if ever, seen. It is the subject matter and surprisingly minimal use of Leonardo and his serious voice as the narrator that sets Ice on Fire apart from something like Our Planet. The best part of the film is how Conners highlights the sheer range of ways CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere and the boldness of some of the paths people have taken. Some people are making a difference caring for forests or starting community gardens, while others are beginning million-dollar operations harnessing science that most people have never heard of before.

As breathtaking as its imagery can be, and as rousing as the presentations of how each group plans to save the world are, the real prize may go to the film’s use of on-screen graphics. Charts and animated effects simplify the often-complicated science into easily understandable and digestible bits that will help the audience connect with what is being presented.
The powerhouse team of DiCaprio and Connors created Ice on Fire in a way that it is beautiful, educational, inspiring, and a still little terrifying. The film’s biggest flaw may be that it is too optimistic. A very bleak picture is painted early on, and then we are told these underfunded, understaffed groups have what it takes to save the world, creating a potential imbalance in tone. As troubling as the first segment can be, it is reassuring to see that the people working on climate change every day are still hopeful and still believe we have time to correct our course.

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