Greedy, lying …

Just briefly, here’s an addition to my list of activist greenie documentaries: Greedy Lying Bastards.

It’s so new I haven’t seen it yet, but it has collected all sorts of awards. It tackles climate change denialists, especially the fossil fuel industry and, given its title, it is probably safe to call it forthright and uncompromising.

Its targets include the Koch brothers, oil tycoons whose names pop up repeatedly amongst those funding climate change disinformation. They also popped up on Forbes magazine’s latest ‘rich list’, as reported on the ABC on March 5: “Tied at sixth were brothers Charles and David Koch, with $US34 billion each, fortunes built on their US oil refining, pulp and paper and chemicals empire Koch Industries.” If you add their separate fortunes together, which for this purpose I think is reasonable, they are third on the list, not equal sixth.

Just by way of a bonus item: Forbes found Gina Rinehart was the richest Australian. I will say no more.

More green movies

Following on, naturally, from my ‘Green movies‘ post a few days ago …

Inspirational ‘art’ Documentaries

The ‘Qatsi trilogy:

  • Koyaanisqatsi (‘life out of balance’) 1982 (RT) (IMDb) is a visual concert of images set to the haunting music of Phillip Glass. The feature-length documentary is visually arresting and possesses a clear, pro-environmental agenda but no story, dialogue, or characters. It is composed of nature imagery, manipulated in slow motion, double exposure or time lapse, juxtaposed with footage of humans’ devastating environmental impact on the planet.
  • Powaqqatsi 1988 (IMDb) (RT) similarly explores technologically developing nations and the effect the transition to Western-style modernization has had on them.
  • Naqoyqatsi: Life as War 2002 (RT) (IMDb) is a montage of our contemporary world dominated by gobalized technology and violence. It is obviously the least appealing of the three, but sometimes ‘appealing’ is not what we need to see.

All three have scores by Philip Glass; that may or may not be a plus for you, depending on your musical tastes, but I find his style ideally suited to the slowly evolving cinematic sequences.

Baraka 1992 (RT) (IMDb) stems from Koyaanisqatsi in that the director here was cinematographer there. IMDb says: “It begins with morning, natural landscapes and people at prayer: volcanoes, water falls, veldts, and forests. Indigenous people apply body paint; whole villages dance. The film moves to destruction of nature via logging, blasting, and strip mining. Images of poverty, rapid urban life, and factories give way to war, concentration camps, and mass graves. Ancient ruins come into view, and then a sacred river where pilgrims bathe and funeral pyres burn. Prayer and nature return. A monk rings a huge bell; stars wheel across the sky.”

Movies by Yann Arthus-Bertrand:

  • Earth from Above 2004 (IMDb) Stunning aerial shots of our planet.
  • Home 2009 (IMDb) With aerial footage from 54 countries, Home is a depiction of how the Earth’s problems are all interlinked.
  • 6 Billion Others 2009 (IMDb)  is “The outcry of people whose lives have already been devastated by the impact of climate change, as well as the wake-up call of the scientific community.” As such, it veers into my ‘Activist documentaries’ category.

The Dancing Forest 2008 (home page) (IMDb) From IMDb: “A small village in Togo refuses to wait for outside aid to make its way out of poverty and ruin. With tools in hand, its men and women, mixing traditional agricultural knowledge with modern techniques, provide a timely lesson on how we ought to harmonize with nature and build a sustainable relationship with the land. The Dancing Forest offers a quiet space in which to reflect on some of the many urgent questions facing mankind: How are we to address the inequities of the widening global divide between rich and poor? How are we to define our economic relationship with the environment?”

Nature documentaries

This is by far the largest category so I will merely commend Last Chance to See 2009 (IMDb) (also a TV series) to those who haven’t seen it, direct you to a filmography of David Attenborough’s work with links to individual movies (RT) and suggest that you try and/or Youtube when you’re tired of Attenborough.

Some movies in this category have explicit political or social agendas, of course, and all have an undercurrent of, ‘Isn’t the natural world wonderful! We really should look after it a bit better.’ Engendering that attitude is pretty much my own motivation in compiling this this list and, indeed, blogging.

Green movies

This list of green movies – movies with environmental themes – is a spin-off from an article about fiction with environmental themes, Green and Good, which I wrote for Viewpoint on books for young adults earlier this year (Vol 20, Nr 2, Winter 2012).

The movies I found fall neatly into four groups: drama/entertainment, activist documentaries, nature documentaries and (for want of a better term) inspirational ‘art’ documentaries. This post covers the first two categories; the others are here.
I haven’t said much about any of the movies but have linked to their pages on two great movie review sites, Rotten Tomatoes (RT) and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).


Silent Running 1972 (RT) (IMDb) Saving the last of Earth’s plants in an interplanetary ark.

Soylent Green 1973 (IMDb) (RT) Dystopian police procedural set in an overcrowded, resource-poor future.

Dune 1984 (RT) (IMDb) Ecology was a central theme of Dune in its original conception, the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert, although it was less important to most of the rest of the series and nearly invisible in the movie, TV series and computer games spawned from it. Wikipedia/Dune franchise provides the best way to navigate the maze of Dune books, movies and games. Star Wars, incidentally, took a lot of ideas from Dune (without admitting to doing so) but the ‘green’ elements were lost in transit.

The Day after Tomorrow 2004 (RT) (IMDb) is a very bad movie and one that got its science ludicrously wrong, but it has to be included here because of its catastrophic-climate-change plot.

Avatar 2009 (RT) (IMDb) borrowed heavily from some very good old SF books (without admitting to it) and dumbed them down in the process but the visual effects are great and its heart is still in roughly the right place.

Activist Documentaries

An Inconvenient Truth 2006, concurrently with the book (RT) (IMDb)

Gasland 2010 (RT) (IMDb) Fracking for CSG in the USA. One of the scariest nonfiction movies I have ever seen, and should be compulsory viewing in CSG exploration areas in Australia.

Who Killed the Electric Car 2006 (IMDb) (RT) General Motors’ sleek EV1 (the electric car whose demise it laments) now looks more like a false start than a unique opportunity lost, but there are several lessons to be learned from the movie.

Bag It 2010 (IMDb) The perils of plastic. Entertaining and instructive.

The Cove 2008 (IMDb) (RT) Dolphin slaughter in Japan; confrontational on the ground and in the viewing.

The Hungry Tide 2011 (home page)  Sea-level rise and its effects on low-lying Pacific islands as seen through the eyes of residents. I wrote about it at greater length here.

More please: please send me your suggestions and I will add them to the list.

The Hungry Tide

When your home is a coral atoll (see Wikipedia for atolls and other ‘coral islands’) in the middle of the ocean, you live in an exquisite but fragile, vulnerable place. The highest point of your island is only a couple of metres above sea level and the land is composed entirely of coral rubble and sand bound together only by the plants that have taken hold on it. Any particularly big storm knocks palms down and loosens the soil; any particularly high tide surges inland, leaving salt behind and reducing soil fertility even when it doesn’t wash the soil back out to sea; and rising sea levels spell certain disaster.

The Hungry Tide, a documentary by Tom Zubrycki, dramatises the problems facing small island nations in a time of climate change by focusing on Kiribati. It was premiered at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival and also shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Zubrycki tells the story primarily through Maria Tiimon, a young woman from one of Kiribati’s smaller islands who, exceptionally among her community, went to Sydney for her education. There she became involved in the campaign to tell the rest of the world what was happening to her home. She is a sympathetic lead and her courage in travelling to Copenhagen and putting her country’s case on the world stage is inspiring.

Copenhagen is contrasted with her home village: thatched huts under the palm trees, a tremendous sense of community and a way of life which revolves around food gardens and the sea. Zubrycki shows us, through Maria and other locals, what is happening – areas of land already lost to the sea in recent years, houses and land flooded by spring tides as we watch, and brave but under-resourced efforts to save threatened areas by building sea walls.

I saw the 52-minute version broadcast on SBS a week ago and was impressed by it but a friend in Melbourne who had recommended it to me after seeing the full-length film was quite disappointed:

I should have realized when I saw it was under an hour that it had been quite heavily cut. As such it has been reduced to a documentary rather than a film, which may be okay for someone who hadn’t seen the uncut version but for me it had lost its heart. The story of Maria and her family was almost non-existent yet it was the effect of climate change on this family, their village and their daily lives that created the impact.

I think President Tonge was only given a two minute statement but his other conversations were far more inspirational. What a pity they were lost. Also missing was … the story of the islanders in Robinvale picking fruit – a portent of what will become mainstream when many more island people become climate change refugees.

What seems to have happened in cutting the length by almost half is that the human stories that gave the film its emotional impact were first to go because the physical facts had to stay. That’s understandable but so is my friend’s disappointment: I saw the short version and thought ‘good documentary’ but she saw the full version and thought ‘great film.’ On that basis, the short version is recommended and the full version is highly recommended.

The Hungry Tide is also the title of a 2005 novel by Amitav Ghosh. It has no connection to Kiribati but it is a great book set in a fascinating part of the world – read about it here in Wikipedia. We read it some years ago and it is also (independently) highly recommended.