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Nowadays, the topic of protecting our natural environment is quite popular. A so-called ‘environmental consciousness‘ has already become an essential attribute of a ‘progressive‘ modern person. This can be clearly seen throughout the business realm, where the prefix ‘eco‘ is widely used in branding goods that claim to be of the right class and quality. Thus, marketers have reasons to believe that the mass consumer associates ‘environmental friendliness‘ with something good and positive.
However, when any concept is brought to the masses, it always comes with the risk of losing its primary meanings. The superficial nature of the mass approach to following the ‘environmental‘ path is obvious. Generally, it all comes down to adoring elite ‘organic‘ products that are considered healthier than the ‘ordinary‘ ones. However, there is also a more advanced level to it, a responsible lifestyle, which implies that the eco-adepts can and will change and discipline their daily habits so as to consume less and approach recycling more consciously.
This approach gives peace and internal harmony and contributes positively to our well-being. Nonetheless, to what extent are these popular practices of the ‘progressive‘ modern person truly ‘environmental‘? How much do they really contribute to the overall environmental situation? Can we pat ourselves on the back after having thrown away our carefully sorted trash or purchasing an eco-notebook made of secondary materials?
The main programme of Docudays UA 2017, called 4 DEGREES, perfectly illustrates how diverse, deep and complex those issues that are all labelled ‘environmental‘ really are. All the films in the programme tell us about the extremely close edge of self-destruction to which humanity has already approached. If the average temperature on the planet Earth rises by only 4 degrees Celsius, we will all face a catastrophe: huge territories, including some which are densely populated, will sink under water. The diverse geography of the films presented also covers the incredibly wide map of neglected environmental problems, which together form one huge ‘continent‘ of human irresponsibility.
Behemoth by the Chinese documentarian Liang Zhao is an attempt to depict the inhuman face of the coal industry in northern China. The director’s approach combines meditative realism and critical poetry. Liang Zhao borrows his basic narrative from Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy‘. While watching Behemoth, we descend several circles of an industrial hell. From the peaks of the scarred mountain landscapes, through the labyrinths of industrial dungeons, we move down on the soil of human sweat, disease and suffering.
Landscape shoots of production areas appear like artistically painted pictures. The natural tendency towards the epic is superimposed on the destructive power of mankind. On the screen, it looks like the canvas of an alternative Roerich, who instead of searching for Shambhala was carried away by environmental problems.
The next advance already shows us something unearthly in its worst sense, namely spaces absolutely hostile to humans, although created by them. Industrial wastelands resemble fantastic portals to horrible inhuman worlds. This could have been a documentary film about the planet Kin-dza-dza.
Quoting Dante, Liang Zhao hints there is no hope for this world. But we understand this without any allusions when looking into the faces of people who are forced to work in this hell on earth. Here people come close to becoming soulless mechanisms, and the machines also radiate some sort of absurd despair. Here the iron puppet eloquently reminds us of Sisyphus, thoughtlessly pushing stones. It seems as if it is beginning to question what the blessings of civilisation are worth, if they come at such a price.
The scale of destruction is harrowing, the diabolical anti-terraforming of modern civilisation is inexorably approaching the green steppes of the Mongolian nomads and, ultimately, all of us. Looking at how long it takes the workers to wash all the coal and iron off themselves, one anxiously wonders how much longer it will take to revive our crippled nature.
The non-renewability of nature also presupposes the human body’s non-renewability. Under the snow blanket, there lies an extraterrestrial emptiness, under the coal dust on the workers’ faces, there lie deadly diseases. The noise of the machines echoes when we wheeze through our ruined lungs. So breathes Behemoth, the embodiment of humanity that destroys itself.
The Yes Men Are Revolting is a classic story that through its very interesting material says that each of us can influence large processes. The activists from the New York group The Yes Men agreed that if we cannot overcome the mainstream media news flow from major corporations and institutions, then we should lead it.
State governments and financial institutions, as they take care of their narrow interests and destroy the environment, possess enormous resources to help create the media images they need. Activists do not have such resources to convey their truth to the general public. Therefore, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno decided to impersonate influential enemies of the environment in order to get on the news and promote their ideas on someone else’s behalf. The film’s characters are also its creators, in collaboration with director Laura Nix. “We wake up and start doing strange things every morning,” say Andy and Mike. And they are not exaggerating.
They hold press-conferences on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, they give the Government of the Netherlands white polar bears as a gift on behalf of Gazprom, they arrange an invasion of balloon-people at a UN climate change event. And they also raise children, quarrel with their loved ones, grieve and rejoice. After all, first of all this film tells a personal story of two friends who try to live in such a way as to bring some benefit to the world.
It is also an inspiring story about the international network of activists. It is an interesting introduction to the problem of global warming ‘for dummies’. In short, this is just one of those films that successfully blur the line between serious and entertaining movies. Nonetheless, the main goal of it is to make the audience more environmentally conscious.
When Two Worlds Collide by the Swiss directors Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel reminds us that the environmental means political. The story of the Peruvian Indians’ struggle to preserve their habitat illustrates how environmental issues can be solved by means of mass politics.
The Indians, living in the primeval forests of the Amazon, are compelled to protest against their government’s actions when the Peruvian president decides, in the guise of ‘facilitating progress’, to give private foreign companies permits for mining in the Amazonian rainforest.
For the inhabitants, the destruction of the forests does not only mean that their home will be ruined but also that their culture and their identity as a whole will disappear. For them, the ecological is existential, and they cannot turn back.
The film unfolds together with the events of the indigenous ‘Maidan,‘ from taking over the forest roads to stormy debates in the parliament. The first protests, the first murders… The tension is constantly building and neither side wants to give in. Without having knowledge of the local situation, it is difficult to fully understand all the nuances of the struggle. However, we can fully understand the situation of huge groups of a population which is disrespected by the central government. The governmental rhetoric of ‘forest savages against progress’, which hides the officials’ desire to cash in on foreign investments, is plainly disgusting. Moreover, the media machine also works to the aborigines’ disadvantage, since it traditionally believes that ‘the problems of savages are only the problems of savages’.
Discussions on global climate change today sound like white noise, which nobody pays attention to anymore. In order not to multiply speculations, Swiss director Matthias von Gunten decides to listen to those who are directly affected by the global warming: the inhabitants of the extreme North, where you can see really how the glaciers melt, and the inhabitants of the Equator, who can see with their own eyes how the ocean level is rising.
The title of the film ThuleTuvalu combines a settlement in Greenland and an island state in the Pacific Ocean. Geographically separate, these territories are experiencing the same disaster: global warming is changing their traditional way of life and very soon it will force the inhabitants to move to foreign lands.
In the film, our attention is skillfully switched between the snowy expanses of the North and the equatorial palms. Though they are far from each other, the landscapes merge into one picture of the tragedy of small nations, for which the apocalypse is already happening. The film also presents incredible shots of lives which seem exotic for us. Horned narwhals hunting in icy water, or an insane boat chase with a net after flying fish – soon there will be nobody to do such things.
Everything on our planet is interconnected, which is proved with specific examples: here the sea freezes two months later than usual, and here the coconut juice disappears and fresh water becomes salty. We are all riding on thin ice, like this dog harness does, trying to outrun the abnormally early spring. But there are people who water the thin sprouts to grow into tall trees in the future, hoping their roots will stop the island soil from dissipating. These small seedlings give us hope and urge us all to take action.
Kip Andersen, the protagonist and co-director of the film Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret, is trying to break through the veil of standard approaches and obvious arguments. On the one hand, his investigation is rather trivial: he wants to confirm the seemingly obvious conclusions about the extremely harmful environmental impact of the global meat industry as promulgated in a special report by the UN. On the other hand, a strange thing rises to the surface. For some reason, virtually all the influential environmental organisations ignore these UN findings and persistently keep silent about the key role of meat production in the process of global warming.
Unexpectedly, Andersen’s banal inquiries take on an ominous tone, and behind the wall of silence, a real and mortal danger begins to be felt. Such a change throughout an apparently obvious investigation sends shivers up and down the spine.
While realising the presence of a terrible conspiracy, we learn about the various eco-structures of America which are trying to implement a scheme for the most harmonious and efficient food production. As he continues interviewing the eco-farmers, Kip comes to the conclusion that the most optimal mode of production and consumption is veganism.
So, the film Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret should be watched with great care, as it is known that a large percentage of viewers will inevitably refuse to consume food of animal origin.
Text: Andriy Bondarenko
Photo: "Behemoth" (dir. Liang Zhao)