Each earth mover at Canada's Tar Sands is 3-stories high. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace film Petropolis.
"Reams of depressing data, loads of hand-wringing about the woeful state of humanity," that's how film critics described Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour. So where are we two years later? If the environmental documentaries screened at Toronto International Film Festival, closing tonight, are any indication, catastrophe is inevitable if we don't fix things asap. Ticking clocks provides great suspense in movies, train wrecks grab attention, horror sells. So does this account for the doom and gloom of the latest wave of eco-film fare?
Take The Age of Stupid. As commented in Treehugger, its post-apocalyptic view of environmentalism offers more stick than carrot, emphasizing the negative as opposed to providing answers. The three docs at TIFF follow suit and pose disturbing views of imminent disaster, as noted in a Reuters' story covering the event. It suggests that what previously seemed like alarmist scenarios are now plausible, especially since "the global economy's near-death experience." The filmmakers see the situation as serious.
Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives of the Alberta Tar Sands
Produced by Greenpeace, director Peter Mettler captures the massive destruction of the sprawling oil-sands projects in the vast wilderness of northern Canada. Filmed from the air, like Yann Arthus Bertrand's Home, the images of Petropolis soar over the world's second-largest oil reserve, to reveal the stunning impact on water, land, and air with upgraders emitting 300 tons of sulfur daily.
The world of beekeeping with its phenomenon of "colony collapse disorder" and the destructive impact on agriculture is revealed in Colony, showing the mysterious loss of millions of bees from hives and effect of pesticides. Directors Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell follow a family of California beekeepers and the ruinous effect the economic meltdown adds to the drama.
A portrait of Michael Ruppert, an LA cop turned futurist, who foresees the end of industrialized society in a monologue that addresses "peak oil," and what happens when we run out of the primary substance that powers the planet today. Paranoid radical wingnut? Collapse's director, Chris Smith, illustrates how Ruppert's "obsession with the collapse of industrial civilization has led to the collapse of his life."
Is this a signal to heed? Will doomsday views in films make us "duck and cover" or provoke a reasonable and impassioned response, leading to action more than just raising awareness? The Variety review of The 11th Hour did give kudos to DiCaprio for "fascinating ideas about how to go about solving the climate crisis."
There's a new crop of documentaries due in October, including Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story an ominous picture of 2008's financial meltdown and world in crisis. But the current spate of eco-docs are doing just so-so at the box office. Crude, about the oil disaster in Ecuador, made $21,000 after its first week, while No Impact Man only earned $15,000. The Cove managed more than $700,000 in seven weeks. Food, Inc. is the hit with $4 million to date, and $33,000 just last week--small by Hollywood standards, but considerable compared to Earth Days total at just over $11,000 after five weeks.
We know where the big bucks lie. So do these informative documentaries provoke or inspire? Perhaps it depends where on the green spectrum the viewer stands, from skeptic to converted. Will fear motivate the complacent? With an average theater count as low as only 1 to 3 filmgoers, who knows.