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Life and career
Born and raised in Staten Island, New York, Orlowski attended Stuyvesant High School where he served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Spectator. His senior year coincided with the attacks of September 11, 2001, and, under his leadership, the newspaper issued a special 24-page 9/11 insert containing student photos, reflections, and stories. On November 20, 2001, the magazine was distributed for free in 830,000 copies of The New York Times to the entire New York Greater Metropolitan Area.
At the age of 18, Orlowski moved to California to study anthropology at Stanford University. During this time, Orlowski directed and produced two short films—Geocaching: From the Web to the Woods (2006), which chronicles the rise of GPS treasure hunting as a popular hobby, and The Strange Case of Salman abd al Haaq (2007), a short fictional film about extraordinary rendition.
In his senior year at Stanford, he joined environmental photographer James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey, a time-lapse photography project monitoring glacier retreat around the world. Hired first as the team’s videographer, he eventually went on to direct the documentary Chasing Ice based on Balog’s work.
The feature-length documentary received international acclaim, screening on all seven continents and capturing more than 40 awards from film festivals around the world. Chasing Ice also received a 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Nature Programming; the Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography Award for U.S. Documentary; an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song "Before My Time;" and a 2016 Doc Impact Award honoring documentary films that have made the greatest impact on society. The film was invited to screen at the White House, the United Nations, and the United States Congress.
Orlowski has worked with Apple, National Geographic, Stanford University, and the Jane Goodall Institute among many others. His work has aired on Netflix, National Geographic Channel, CNN, and NBC and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, NPR, and Popular Mechanics. He has traveled on tour representing the Sundance Institute, President Obama's Committee for the Arts and Humanities, and the National Endowment of the Arts.
In 2009, Orlowski founded Exposure Labs, a production company geared toward socially relevant filmmaking. In 2015, he produced the award-winning film Frame by Frame, which premiered at South By Southwest and tells the story of four Afghan photojournalists working to build a free press following decades of war and an oppressive Taliban regime.
Currently based in Boulder, Colorado, Orlowski is producing and directing a film on the rapid changes occurring to the world’s coral reefs. The Untitled film aims to continue the conversation that began with Chasing Ice, but exploring one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planets. The feature-length film is tentatively scheduled to be released in 2017.
Chasing Ice is a 2012 documentary chronicling environmental photographer James Balog’s quest to capture images that will help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate.
In 2007, Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey, a long-term photography project monitoring 24 of the world’s glaciers through 43 time-lapse cameras. It is around this time that Chasing Ice begins, following Balog and his band of young adventurers as they embark on an expedition to Iceland to deploy the first round of revolutionary cameras across the brutal Arctic.
As the climate change debate divides America and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up, Balog finds himself at the end of his tether. Battling untested technology in subzero conditions and worsening health, he comes face to face with his own mortality. It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate, ultimately changing the global conversation around climate change.
The documentary includes scenes from a glacier calving event that took place at Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland, lasting 75 minutes, the longest such event ever captured on film according to the Guinness World Book of Records.
"I don't look at Chasing Ice as being a film about climate change. I like to see it as an adventure story about James [Balog], about this photographer," Orlowski told Lifestyler magazine in 2012. "In the front we get to learn about climate change, we get to deliver the message of the science through James as storyteller, the protagonist. In my mind I see it more as a human interest story than an environmental film."
Huffington Post called the documentary "one of the most beautiful and important films ever made" and Roger Ebert wrote: "At a time when warnings of global warming were being dismissed by broadcast blabbermouths as "junk science," the science here is based on actual observation of the results as they happen. When opponents of the theory of evolution say (incorrectly) that no one has ever seen evolution happening, scientists are seeing climate change happening right now — and with alarming speed. Here is a film for skeptics who say "we don’t have enough information."
- Chasing Coral (director) (2017)
- Frame by Frame (producer) (2015)
- Bad Kid (producer) (2013)
- Chasing Ice (director and producer) (2012)
- The Strange Case of Salman abd al Haqq (director and producer) (2007)
- Geocaching: From the Web to the Woods (director and producer) (2006)