Each winter in Ely, Minnesota, a crew treks out onto a frozen lake to cut hefty blocks of ice from its surface. They haul the thick chunks to storage, where they’re stacked, covered in sawdust, and preserved for use the rest of the year, a once-necessary method of refrigeration rarely applied today. Consisting of dozens of people, some who have been dedicated to the cause for decades and others who joined in the last year or two, the team engages in the age-old practice of harvesting the frozen blocks at the property of legendary explorer and preservationist Will Steger.
Produced by Gravity Films and directed by Nathaniel Schmidt, “Ice Ball” follows the crew throughout two seasons as they endure below freezing temperatures, a typical condition for Minnesota winters that made filming extra challenging, at the explorer’s sustainable enclave in the North Woods. The short documentary spotlights the community that’s gathered around Steger since his Arctic expeditions and chronicles their devotion to more sustainable ways of living.
As the disastrous effects of the climate crisis accelerate, historic methods like the ice harvest reduce the reliance on carbon-based energy sources and offer an urgent alternative. “All of the ice shelves that I’ve traveled on in the polar regions, north and south, they’re not there anymore. We’re at this crisis now, the human race and the planet. We’re going to have to innovate out of it, and this is what it’s about,” Steger says.
According to Short of the Week, Schmidt is currently working on a feature-length documentary about the life of a Wiradjuri woman. It’s slated for release next August, and in the meantime, you can find more of his work on Vimeo.
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