I greatly appreciate the accessibility of the Tribeca Film Festival's virtual programming, but there's one film in particular that I'd have preferred to see on a big screen rather than on my laptop: Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul. Like other sport/nature/travelogue documentaries taking us into remote landscapes, such as Touching the Void and Encounters at the End of the World, you just want to see those epic vistas as large as possible, hopefully to engulf your vision and let you pretend you're right there with the explorers and filmmakers, even if there's no way you could possibly comprehend how much warmer you are than the people on screen.
Sebastian Copeland, best known for his photography books on Antarctica, traveled to the North Pole last year for the centennial of Robert Peary's first-ever expedition to the top of the world. He was joined by one other person, adventurer Keith Heger, and the two took turns with a camera, documenting the treacherous journey for what resulted in this film. Copeland's goal, other than to achieve something few humans would dare, was to take more photos of icy expanses so that you and I might fall in love with the Arctic region. Because, as he says at the beginning of the film, "we will not save what we do not love."
Yes, Into the Cold is another doc about global warming. Multiple times in the film Copeland remarks that his trip is an anniversary occasion while also sadly noting that the Peary expedition may never see a bicentennial repeat because the ice covering the Arctic Ocean will likely no longer be there to walk on. Some cynics could argue that no one else would want to make the trek after watching Copeland's film. For one, the frost bite, hunger, and arduous terrain depicted is hardly a big sell. And anyway, thanks to Into the Cold, we get to see -- and in the best, most comfortable ways -- experience the majesty of the place without having to actually go there.
In a way, knowing that the ice is quickly melting, Copeland's mission was to take his beautiful pictures and shoot this extraordinary movie to preserve the images for posterity. He'll tell you in his narration, though, that his photographs represent only a small part of what he saw up there. Having myself experienced an iota of what he did -- I merely walked on a Patagonian glacier that he'd likely consider like a tropical beach in comparison -- I do know what it's like to see natural, ever-changing landscapes I'll never be able to properly represent through even snapshots or stories. It makes me think of a favorite line by Rutger Hauer's character in Blade Runner about the uniqueness and transience of memory. What undocumented sights Copeland captured solely with his eyes are like "tears in rain."
Could Into the Cold be even more convincing of the global warming argument than, say, An Inconvenient Truth or The 11th Hour (the film presented by Leonardo DiCaprio, who serves with Copeland on the board of Mikhail Gorbachev's environmental organization Global Green USA)? Perhaps not, but it's much more visually stimulating. Rather than those two docs, Into the Cold, despite being relatively void of characters, continually called to mind Encounters at the End of the World, in part because Copeland's speech pattern in his voice-over narration is oddly similar to that of Werner Herzog's. Ironically, Encounters puts things instead into the perspective that it's humanity that is like tears in rain.
Encounters ends with the paraphrasing of a saying by Alan Watts about how the universe perceives itself through our eyes and ears, and "we are the witness through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, its magnificence." Into the Cold, meanwhile, concludes with more urgency to be more conscious and connected to the "land that hosts us" and that we must protect not our planet but ourselves from ourselves. No matter what I believe as far as the climate change debate, though, I like to think of Copeland's film and photographs as merely a witnessing of the glory and the magnificence so that both we and the universe may be conscious of and appreciate it, while either we or it still remains.