Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski Speaks at Ithaca College

By Grace Collins ’23, September 18, 2019
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker discusses film, activism, and social change as part of the Park Distinguished Visitor Series.

On September 12, award-winning filmmaker Jeff Orlowski spoke to Ithaca College students and local community members about his experiences filming around the world, the perseverance it took for him to break through into the industry, and the activism and social change his work has inspired.

Orlowski is best known for directing and producing the environmental documentaries “Chasing Ice” and “Chasing Coral.” He is also the founder of production company Exposure Labs, which aims to produce socially relevant films. Orlowski came to campus as part of the annual Park Distinguished Visitor Series.

To start the evening, the audience was treated to photos and anecdotes from his time spent filming his documentaries. He described these experiences — which ranged from hiking glaciers in Greenland to document melting, to scuba diving to film time lapses of dying coral reefs — as “both risky and really fun at the same time.”

Orlowski’s talk then turned to more critical issues. He shared how he got involved in climate activism and turned “Chasing Ice” into a national campaign for reform. Although he never expected to become an activist, he ended up in that role after the release of “Chasing Ice.” Viewers frequently asked him how they could get involved and help.

His team traveled around the country, putting on screenings of the film in areas of the country that had high populations of climate skeptics, in an attempt to change the opinion.

“Scientists have been forced to become spokespeople for climate,” Orlowski said. “All of the work we've done has been grounded in scientific fact, and we’re trying to create these stories and make them more accessible to people.”

“[Orlowski] is not only a tremendous film artist but someone who has engaged so many different uses of media in terms of community organizing,  journalism, education and research”

Diane Gayeski, Dean of the Roy H Park School of Communications

Orlowski ended his talk with words of wisdom for aspiring filmmakers and storytellers. “You’ve got to find your own stories, you’ve got to build your own relationships, you have to go capture them and figure out the best way to get them out there,” he said. “There is no real limit to where stories can go. There is infinite opportunity around taking compelling stories and sharing them with the world.”

Following his speech, Orlowksi took questions from the crowd on a variety of topics, including grassroots community organization, the future of clean energy, and how to share stories for particular audiences.

Alison True ’23, who has long been a fan of Orlowski, was moved by his lecture. “I was in class thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, the industry is insane.’ Then I get to my next class and we’re watching ‘Chasing Coral’ and I realize this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said. “What he does, what he stands for, and how he’s changing the world has inspired me.”

The Park Distinguished Visitor Series, sponsored by the Park Foundation, has been bringing renowned media and communications professionals to Ithaca College for over 15 years. Orlowski’s distinguished career made him an easy choice for this year’s speaker.

“He is not only a tremendous film artist but someone who has engaged so many different uses of media in terms of community organizing,  journalism, education and research” said Diane Gayeski, dean of the Roy H Park School of Communications. “I encourage students to understand and follow their passions, knowing that you can put together your passions and interests with whatever you’re studying, and I thought he was a great example of that.”