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The Copenhagen Intl. Documentary Film Festival, or CPH:DOX as it is known, has announced it will open with “Into the Ice” by Lars Henrik Ostenfeld.

A striking film about Greenland’s melting ice sheet, it follows the director on his travels alongside three pioneering glaciologists into the bowels of one of the most hostile places on Earth.

“We all know the ice is melting which will result in an enormous rise in sea levels and have major consequences for populations around the world. But we don’t know how fast it’s happening,” says Ostenfeld, who explains: “Greenland is the place on Earth where it’s melting fastest so understanding what’s happening there can help us predict what will happen in the rest of the world.

“We get most of our knowledge from satellites, radar gauging and computer models, but I was surprised to find that very few scientists are actually going into the field. It’s the ice itself that holds the secret. So I decided to follow these scientists with my camera to better understand the consequences of climate change,” says Ostenfeld, who acts both as director and cinematographer.

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Courtesy of Lars H. Ostenfeld

His adventure takes him on a series of journeys with scientists Alun Hubbard, Dorthe Dahl-Jensen and Jason Box. These include a vertiginous and dangerous trip with Hubbard down a so-called “moulin,” a vertical well-like shaft within the ice sheet created by melting ice water. Tied to nothing but a rope, the men descend into the 175-meter deep hole to try and find out how much melted water it holds.

“It was dangerous because of the falling ice and I couldn’t help wondering whether this piece of rope, thick as my thumb, could really carry me,” says Ostenfeld, who shot with a robust, heavyweight camera that could withstand the extreme conditions and capture the extreme contrasts between the dark hole and the ice. He also brought along a sound technician on every trip: “If you really want to get a sense of the snow and ice, it’s important to listen to the sounds, the cracks – that helps you get it under your skin.”

The result is a stunning documentary featuring unprecedented footage of the ice sheet from the inside. Ostenfeld’s hope is that his film will help raise awareness about climate change.

“There is this feeling I picked up from the three scientists. Jason [Box] is the one who describes it best: It is the burden of knowledge. Being able to see where our world is heading but having the feeling that you are not being heard,” he says, referring to the Greek myth of Cassandra, cursed to utter true prophecies that are never believed. “The message is: We have to listen to nature, it is telling us something. And we have to listen to the scientists,” he concludes.

Niklas Engstrøm, the artistic director of CPH:DOX, says he instantly knew he had found the festival’s opening film when he saw it: “Part adventure movie, part scientific exploration, part call to action, ‘Into the Ice’ addresses the predominant crisis of our time. But it is so much more than your average climate documentary. After two digital editions of CPH:DOX, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the return of the festival to the cinemas than to start off with a film of such mesmerizing beauty and global importance.”

Four years in the making, the film was pitched at the festival’s long-standing financing and co-production event CPH:FORUM back in 2019, but shooting was delayed by a year due to the COVID crisis.

Producer Malene Flindt Pedersen says she is proud it has been selected, adding: “I’m relieved because I no longer have to lie awake at night worrying about the nerve-wracking expeditions the film crew and scientists are on. We look forward to showing it around the world because it has an important message: The world as we know it is changing faster than we think.”

Picked up by German doc specialist Rise and Shine, the film is drumming up solid pre-sales, including deals with TV2 Denmark, SVT, NRK, YLE and Norddeutscher Rundfunk ARTE.

“Into the Ice” will have its world premiere on March 21 in Copenhagen. The doc will also be competing in the festival’s main section DOX:AWARD – the full lineup will be announced on March 1.

CPH:DOX will run physically in and around Copenhagen from March 23 through April 3 with simultaneous viewings scheduled in cities around Denmark. A selection of films will be screened in a nationwide online festival from April 1. Industry events will take place both physically and online from April 28 through March 1 under the banner “Business as Unusual.”