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Earth Day: 9 Films That Will Change the Way You Think About the World

This Earth Day consider adding a few of these these mainstream and indie documentaries to your must-see list.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Surviving Progress Poster

 
 
 
 

In an apocalyptic 2012, is there a better time than Earth Day to remind ourselves just how lucky we are to be spinning through the void of space on this life-giving rock? From rapidly acidifying oceans and shortsighted deforestation to perpetually pollutive wars and the propping up of obsolete markets, Earth is taking killer blows that we're going to seriously regret delivering.

Like the worsening news about the future of our planet, the following films have recently arrived in short bursts. They deal out often visually spectacular but emotionally devastating losses of sea ice, as well as the unheard voices of nations beneath the rising waves. Some consider the double-edged sword of technological innovation, whose parasitic profit motive has compromised its earthly host. Others analyze those natural resources that so-called progress continues to exhaust in search of the new shiny.

But these Earth Day offerings are timely snapshots, because the slow-dawning realization that we've unplugged from a lethal, consensual hallucination can be screened far and wide in our pop-cultural productions. You've seen it in the post-apocalyptic allegory of The Hunger Games, last seen slaying the box office, whose forthcoming king will no doubt be The Hobbit, which takes place in a bucolic Middle-Earth bouncing its way toward an epochal world war. You can throw in Game of Thrones' murderous power grabs, Don Draper's advertising fetishism and plenty more.

But the mainstream and indie documentaries below pull away that fictional prism for convincing think pieces on sustainability and survival. Thanks to the death of appointment viewing, you'll get to watch them anytime, most likely on any platform, sometime this year.

1. Surviving Progress

Co-executive produced by Martin Scorsese and co-directed by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, this meditative documentary examines humanity's currently crucial crossroads between self-wrought runaway consumption, rapacious economics and natural resource exhaustion through the prism of so-called technological progress. Anchored in author Ronald Wright's 2004 Massey Lectures series A Short History of Progress and fleshed out by theoretical physicist cyborg Stephen Hawking, dystopian sci-fi author Margaret Atwood, famed primatologist Jane Goodall and others, the visually impressive Surviving Progress analyzes what it will take to dodge a global collapse that is priced into the future thanks to short-sighted past and present mistakes.

It's a poetic analysis, with a spare score that cedes ground to its visionary subjects, and their destabilizing subject matter. But it's also an optimistic exploration, holding out hope that humanity's exponential technological development can discover solutions to stave off what Hawking calls the next two centuries of natural and social disasters we'll have to negotiate to survive as a species. Some answers come from Craig Venter's Synthetic Genomics, which is scouring the planet's oceans for microbes whose genes can help us "write software for life." Others can be found in the internet, which Surviving Progress posits as our interconnected planetary brain. If you're looking for a fiery polemic, Surviving Progress, opening in April, is not the film for you. But if you're looking for a sweeping think piece, welcome to the machine.

2. The Island President

Earlier this February, Mohammed Nasheed -- the Mandela of the Maldives, who like his forebear has spent much of his life being tortured in prison -- was allegedly forced from his presidency by gunpoint. A month later, The Island President, a documentary exploring Nasheed's campaign to reverse climate change in order to save the low-lying Maldives from being swallowed by inevitable sea rise, finally debuted in a United States that probably couldn't even locate his country on a Google map. Even so, The Island President's award-winning political and environmental intrigue still managed to capture the consciences of its viewers, critics and even his own country.