Filmmakers voicing concern for the natural world is nothing new. Long before An Inconvenient Truth and Chasing Ice, Godfrey Reggio teamed up with Philip Glass for 1982's gorgeous and disturbing Koyaanisqatsi — a Hopi word meaning "unbalanced life."
A decade later, one of that film's writers, Ron Fricke, gifted us an equally immediate eco-update in the form of the breathtaking Baraka. And of course, a Whole Foods tote-bag-load of earth-loving movies have followed — because globally, we've failed to make significant headway with solutions.
This year's Indie Spirit Film Festival includes three environmentally conscious efforts. Though we'll leave the main festival coverage to our Film section, let's take a quick look at each.
Love Thy Nature
Liam Neeson is the "voice of Sapiens, our collective humankind" — meaning he talks a lot in voiceover as an invisible character having his come-to-Gaia moment. It's a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary, as Love Thy Nature otherwise plays out like a mash-up of Planet Earth, What the Bleep Do We Know? and any other documentary you've seen on human health as it relates to our relationship with the natural world.
Directed and shot by Sylvie Rokab (Discovery Channel's House of Babies series), LTN takes a closer look particularly at biomimicry, the "imitation of nature's genius" in modern thought and design processes. From dissing Descartes for insinuating that animals don't have feelings, to championing new, green technologies and examining the ill effects of city living, LTN takes a firm stance that the "environmental movement is a social justice movement."
Continued environmental degradation, the movie posits, equates to going against the root intelligence that created life. And cut off from natural experiences and settings, human health takes hits in the form of depression, obesity and stress-related ailments. Slowed-down film footage of happy scenarios (daddy and daughter on the beach, etc.) and inspirational orchestration tries to balance the thematic melancholy while padding a 76-minute run time.
I can't say LTN forges any new ground, but it's well-meaning and pretty enough to look at, with some fun stats floating by. Plus there's the booming comfort of Neeson's voice. When Mr. Qui-Gon Jinn commands, you'd better listen.
Despite a superfluous intro where it appears that Canadian documentarian Michael Buckley really just needed to show audiences his face (as he tandem paraglides over a mountainscape), Plundering Tibet does manage to effectively damn China and complicit Canadian corporations for "ruthless exploitation of Tibet's mineral and oil resources."
It's all done inside of 24 minutes, as a montage of Google Earth images, still photography and video (including smuggled-out cell phone footage) with narration by Buckley, plus a couple of interview subjects. The sick news is how Chinese mining outfits, thanks to a costly new rail line for transport, will rob at least $125 billion in raw resources, with the Tibetan people not seeing a nickel of it. Oh, but they will receive the toxic effects of pollution in their air and water — lung-full of asbestos dust, anyone? — as items like lithium are extracted for our cell phones, tablets and electric cars.
Key lesson: Don't give your money to companies that buy "conflict minerals." And good luck figuring out who's who.
Buckley calls the certain future of Himalayan mountain-rape a "disaster of biblical proportions," citing the Tibetans' ancient belief that digging disturbs the spirits of the earth. It's crushing to learn of the 125-plus Tibetan protesters (many of them barely adults) who've committed self-immolation to call attention to the injustice, and to hear of demonstrators who simply disappear, secret police-style.
China's migrant workers don't fare much better, with unsafe conditions having already claimed many lives. And neighboring countries, especially those downstream, won't be immune to this destruction. As for what the wider world can do: Plea to those in power to pressure China, ideally stifling international trade of the conflict minerals. It's a weak economic answer to an ecological nightmare.
Dreams of the Last Butterflies
Fervently leaving the droning documentary style behind, 10-minute-long DLB reaches for an artistic approach to environmental awareness, with a "live-action dark faerie tale" inspired by foreboding butterfly declines due to pollution and habitat loss.
Filmmaker Zina Brown, who achieved certified carbon-neutral status for DLB, revels most in costume design and makeup, highlighting the crafts with a nearly three-minute butterfly orgy of sorts that launches the thin storyline. As a rhyming voiceover tells the tale of the last butterflies to fall, butterfly queens hatch and show off their wings. It feels like a music video for the electronic soundtrack.
Once the costume glam and faerie porn fades to a Mad Max-esque Act II with evil fire-blowers — clearly representing the big, bad and gold-nugget-hoarding greedy among us — DLB starts to feel more like a circus performance, still visually engaging but overacted for the dramatic effect of telling a story using only gestures onscreen. We're left to ponder the last queen's fate, while told that we choose the end of the story, ultimately, hopefully fulfilling the "dream of what we truly could be."