“People think that climate change is a far off distant problem happening just to polar bears. In reality, seas are rising, weather’s changing. The arctic’s coming to us, in a way.”
Acclaimed photographer Lynn Davis has made a career capturing the breathtaking iceberg landscapes of Greenland. In Meltdown, a documentary directed by Fredric Golding (On The Mat) and executive produced by Matt Tollin (The Last Dance), the film follows Davis on her sixth photographic journey to Greenland. She has witnessed the effects of climate change throughout her trips to the country over the course of 30-plus years, but this one presented an increased visible difference. The ice she had previously photographed–described as firm, shiny, and compact–was now dissipating into Disko Bay due to the increased warming of the planet.
Additionally, the film follows Director of Yale’s Climate Change Communication Project Anthony Leiserowitz, a climate scientist who travels to Greenland for the very first time to take in the visuals of the ice, while examining the ongoing effects of climate change. He even catches up with Davis for the first time and heads out on the water with her during one of her outings to photograph the ice.
Through their respective journeys, Davis and Leiserowitz provide a better understanding of what’s happening in Greenland. For many people, it’s one thing to be told that the Earth is being affected by climate change, but it’s a whole new ball game when you can see it unfold in front of you and hear from those in the Ilulissat community that it’s actively affecting. As Leiserowitz discusses in the film, part of the issue surrounding the ongoing climate crisis is both “concern and engagement.” And Davis’ story and connection to Greenland is a compelling way to engage an audience.
It was the loss of her dear friends and fellow photographers Peter Hujar and Robert Mapplethorpe–both of whom had passed away in the late 1980s–that brought Davis to Greenland. In the midst of her grief, the photographer was taken by the beauty of the forms and different angles of the mountains of ice she encountered in Disko Bay on the first night out of her very first trip. Davis would shift away from shooting portraits and turn to capturing landscapes of ice.
The film shows Davis in action as she takes a boat on the water and communicates with the boat captain, Silver, on where she wants to go and what icebergs she’s hoping to get a look at. She compares her time shooting in Greenland to that of a treasure hunt–always looking to find something that she hasn’t seen. While Davis doesn’t entirely understand her strong connection to the country, she said she feels happiest among the landscapes where humans are “little pieces of a huge picture.”
And what a picture it is, as the documentary features exquisite cinematography by Sidney Luitsch. Though the setting is at times overpowered by the film’s score, you see why Davis is so drawn to the beauty of the ice. It’s also another reminder to the audience about what exactly is at stake.
Telling a story that highlights climate change in a tangible way is no small task, and I appreciate that Golding was able to bring Davis and Leiserowitz together to share a personal story that incorporates science. The film does flip back and forth between its two subjects, and from a pure storytelling point of view, laying out Davis’ story in a more chronologically structured fashion would have made it that much more riveting.
While seeing such drastic affects of climate change in Meltdown can be, admittedly, a little scary, Leiserowitz explained that when it comes to turning things around, hope is not lost. “We should have acted 30 years ago, but we still have time to act now.”
Meltdown is now playing in select theaters and on demand.