For the past epoch, we have been living in the Holocene era, but for many scientists, this has already changed to something more specific to the effect humanity has had on the planet and call it the Anthropocene. The age of humankind has come about because of how we exploit the environment around us, and the damage that has wreaked, creating an evolution that has come to be signified as one of death and destruction, essentially a complete extinction of many of the Earth's species, and that includes us. The proliferation of plastics, the heating of the climate, the wiping out of whole swathes of animal and plant life alike, it is all making the globe suffer and though we continue as if nothing is wrong, the evidence that we are in fact wrong about our behaviour is more apparent...
There is a problem with environmental documentaries in that they can be a tough sell: nobody (or hardly anybody) wants to hear the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, no matter how often we like to entertain the notion of the apocalypse in our media. These films and television shows posit that is precisely what is happening, and make dire warnings we would be wise to heed, but there have been documentaries on this subject ever since the nineteen-seventies when the ecological movement began to gain significant traction, and yet here we were, being told off once again about the massive mess we were making of our home. It did not seem to matter how often this message was put across, at best there would be a spell of regretful reflection, but mostly it was ignored.
Now, not everyone was ignorant with that kind of dedication, but the question that perhaps prevented people from doing more with this message, assuming those who didn't give a shit were past saving, was what can we possibly do? Images like the ones in this film appeared overwhelmingly appalling, and after decades to get used to the idea, many felt they could only make the most token of gestures to environmentalism. In this we are witness, remotely, to such locations as the most polluted city in the world, where the locals are encouraged to celebrate their metalworks in corporate singalong shows, yet there are very little plants left, making oxygen thin. Or the site in Kenya where the results of ten thousand elephant deaths have left the government to dispose of their tusks that were destined for ivory sellers; the tusks are incinerated, but the elephants remain dead.
In fact, there was optimism here, it's simply that the three directors, who had made Manufactured Landscapes, a similar documentary of over ten years before (see what I mean about the message having difficulty catching on?), were a shade too subtle about it. When we see an ivory carver making intricate gewgaws for those with more money (and callousness) than sense, it takes a while before he admits to us that the material he is using is from extinct mammoth tusks, and therefore not harming the elephants one jot - though then you have to factor in that the Arctic is thawing so quickly all these bones are being uncovered, so not so reassuring. But then there's the London bomb shelters repurposed for growing crops, and there's a hint that technology can be used to improve, not harm, so that the overpopulation (a church in Nigeria seats a million worshippers), the destruction of the seas, the threat of extreme weather, it can be stemmed, adapted, coped with. But it's just a hint. In a hundred years, will there even be documentary makers left to tell us off? Music by Rose Bolton and Norah Lorway.
[The film is released more widely on 10 July on:
Curzon Home Cinema.]