This Changes Everything

I try to maintain a rate of two or three posts here per week but have been somewhat preoccupied recently with upgrading another website and attending the odd movie, amongst other things. The Sydney Travelling Film Festival has been and gone, and we saw TropEco’s screening of This Changes Everything at JCU last week.

This Changes Everything is based on Naomi Klein’s 2014 book of the same name and what Wikipedia says about the book is the key to the movie:

In Monthly Review, Professors John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark praised the book, writing that “Klein, who in No Logo ushered in a new generational critique of commodity culture, and who in The Shock Doctrine established herself as perhaps the most prominent North American critic of neoliberal disaster capitalism, signals that she has now, in William Morris’s famous metaphor, crossed “the river of fire” to become a critic of capitalism. The reason is climate change, including the fact that we have waited too long to address it, and the reality that nothing short of an ecological revolution will now do the job.”

If that sounds a bit dry, the cinematography is great and the movie lives up to its makers’ promise:

Unlike many works about the climate crisis, this is not a film that tries to scare the audience into action: it aims to empower. Provocative, compelling, and accessible to even the most climate-fatigued viewers, This Changes Everything will leave you refreshed and inspired …

Klein-movie-flyer Its argument that we will have to entirely remake the economy in order to solve the climate crisis is thought-provoking, to say the least. Is it necessary? Is it feasible? Is it a new idea or the apotheosis of the 1960s hippie dream? There is another screening in Townsville in ten days’ time and I do recommend it.

Before then, of course, we will have had the Climate March (Saturday 28 November) and Heads in Sand 2 later on the same afternoon. Townsville’s greenies are alive and kicking, if somewhat tired. Naomi Klein would be pleased.

Human, a new movie by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the creator of Earth from Above and Home (see this post, July 2012) has just released a new documentary, Human, which explores the human condition through a sequence of personal testimonies interwoven with aerial views of the world. As such, it has similarities with his 6 Billion Others (2009).

Screenshot from Vol 1 of "Human"
Screenshot from Volume 1 of “Human”

You can read about it at Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB, although it was so new at the time of writing that neither had much to say about it. A positive review of it here concludes:

“Thanks to the unconditional and exceptional support of the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, French TV France 2 and Google, this project produced by the GoodPlanet Foundation, will be accessible to the widest possible audience throughout the world. On September 12, Human Day, there will be a screening at the United Nations and it will be screened at the Venice Film Festival. Google will make the film available through dedicated YouTube channels with content in English, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and French. These channels will offer three 90-minute films, forming a natural extension of the HUMAN project.”

The three parts of the (extended) movie are here: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, while the movie’s home page and trailer can be found here.


snowpiercerSnowpiercer came to Townsville yesterday, as Townsville Cinema Group’s first movie of the year.

At its most bare-bones level, the plot is about a near-future climate apocalypse and its aftermath. In response to global warming, governments seeded the planet’s skies with particles to block some of the sunlight reaching the earth’s surface and bring temperatures down to liveable levels, but they got it catastrophically wrong and threw the world into an ice-age. The last remnants of humanity are gathered in a sealed community with an autocratic leader, a decadent upper class, a subservient working class, a desperately poor underclass and a small army of amoral goons keeping everyone in their proper places. This is the setting for the movie’s main story, which follows a revolt of the underclass against their faceless, heartless ruler.

So far, the scenario is not, unfortunately, completely implausible. Global warming is all too real and geo-engineering, as described in the movie, has been seriously proposed by people with expertise in the field (and rightfully howled down by people with more expertise and common sense). And examples of brutally stratified communities controlled by more-or-less crazed dictators are all too common, as are revolts of the have-nots against the haves.

Once we move from generalities to particulars, however, implausibilities pile up faster and thicker than snowdrifts in a fimbulwinter blizzard. The sealed community, you see, is a train – huge, magnificently engineered and impressively fitted out, admittedly, but a train. Circling the globe on a grand loop of tracks purpose-built for it by its visionary engineering-tycoon creator (yes, we’re in mad-scientist territory here, folks), Snowpiercer hurtles endlessly through a wilderness of snow and ice.

If viewers can suspend their disbelief about the back-story, they can enjoy a well-crafted conventional against-the-odds action movie as our underclass hero gathers followers, plans his revolt and fights his way from the rear of the train to the ruler’s quarters at the front. It’s well done but, aside from the setting, not particularly new or original; Spartacus will serve as its archetype, just as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea might serve as the archetype for the autocratic-mad-scientist meme. This last reference, incidentally, is apt in another way, since Snowpiercer has affinities with steampunk (choose an entertaining  or pedestrian explanation of steampunk if the term is new to you).

Do the implausibilities matter? I think that depends on whether the film has any claim to be taken seriously. If it’s just another action movie, who cares? If it is to have any credibility as a comment on our social and environmental stupidity, however, it must have some integrity, at least on its own terms. Good science fiction movies (they are rare but The Matrix comes to mind) do that; bad ones (which are far more common) don’t. Rotten Tomatoes liked Snowpiercer very much but IMDB wasn’t quite as keen and neither, for what my opinion is worth, was I.

Townsville Cinema Group screens good non-commercial movies at Warrina every fortnight. If you live in Townsville but haven’t already got it, look at their programme and think about joining or, if you like, just dropping in and paying to see those which particularly appeal.

A few more green movies

Additions to the lists of green movies I posted a couple of years ago, under the same headings I used then:

Inspirational ‘art’ documentaries

Samsara 2012 (Rotten Tomatoes) (Internet Movie Database) (Wikipedia) Samsara reunites director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson, whose award-winning films Baraka and Chronos were acclaimed for combining visual and musical artistry. Samsara is similar; the “Critics Consensus” on RT is that Samsara is a tad heavy-handed in its message but that its overwhelmingly beautiful imagery more than compensates for any narrative shortcomings.

(Note that there is an older movie of the same name, released about 2001 and telling the story of a Tibetan monk who renounces his vows to marry an attractive peasant girl. It’s a beautiful movie but not a green one; read about it on RT if you want to know more.)

Ashes and Snow 2005 (IMDB), a film by Gregory Colbert, uses both still and movie cameras to explore extraordinary interactions between humans and animals. The 60-minute feature “is a poetic narrative rather than a documentary and aims to lift the natural and artificial barriers between humans and other species”.

Activist documentaries

The Majestic Plastic Bag – a mockumentary 2010 (IMDb) A very different take on a serious issue, The Majestic Plastic Bag is a professionally produced short about the “life cycle” of the plastic bag. Narrated by Jeremy Irons, it gives us the chance to smile and then pause for thought about how we are contributing to the great Pacific garbage patch every time we use a plastic bag. Go to Youtube and sit back – it’s only four minutes long.

Amnesty has recently compiled a list of excellent movies with human rights themes – ten in their main list and more in the comments. Those I have seen give me confidence in saying that all of them will be worth watching – though seeing all of them in a short period may be inadvisable.