Tag Archives: film

Man’s (in)glorious dominion on Earth as a prequel to our Wall•E future

Earth Stewardship is a popular term among my fellow conservation biologists and ecologists lately, what with the Ecological Society of America embracing the term as one of its primary guiding themes for the coming decades. While some of us scratch our heads about what it might mean, precisely, in scientific terms, the ESA has chosen the theme no doubt in order to communicate with a broader public. Stewardship… the word has a strong spiritual / religious resonance… and what ecologist would argue with the call to use our science to transform humanity into better stewards of this planet? Gives us some hope of turning things around even as we teeter on the brink of ecological disasters manifold…

Stewardship also has a better ring to it than that other religiously charged word: Dominion. Some of the world’s dominant religions tell us that their reigning deity gave us dominion over the earth and all its creatures, which were presumably created for our sole benefit. Of course, evolutionary biology tells a different story, but even then we are tempted to place ourselves at some apex of evolution, borne on the branches of, but somehow apart from, the magnificent tree of life. The first creatures (maybe) to comprehend our own story and control our destiny…

Whichever version of this tale of our being you choose to believe, surely our actual history on this earth must give you pause… for we haven’t done a very good job of it, have we? It has been closer to sadistic domination lately than any meaningful stewardship. Or don’t you remember? In that case, you’ll want to watch this three-and-a-half minute animated history of Man’s dominion over Earth. It also makes for a great prequel to the film Wall•E, whose silent first half is some of the loveliest bit of filmmaking magic seen this century. Let’s hope we can steer away from that fate sooner rather than later…

[youtube WfGMYdalClU]
via Jess Zimmerman on Grist.

This film also reminds me of an animated short I had seen long ago as part of a midnight special show screened in a film festival, sometime when I was in graduate school. I think it was at the Old Globe Theater in La Jolla which played a significant part in my cinematic education. As part of this midnight screening, reserved for more risqué, ‘grown-up’ animated fare, I remember seeing a powerful little film which showed a similar history of ‘man’—except in that film, in every instance, whatever the man did turned into a big arse farting out noxious fumes, with the closing shot showing the entire earth as one giant arse spewing dark smoke as the screen faded into credits! Hard to forget that visual, even though I completely forgot the name of the movie!

Anyone else seen that film? This was during the early days of the internet—I think I had Mosaic on the mac in my lab then—well before YouTube was even a glint in its creator’s eyes! I’ve forgotten the name of the film, and so haven’t been able to find it since, even though the imagery of our collective arseholery lingers in my mind. If you’ve seen it, remember the title, and/or know if/where it is online, please do drop me a line! I would love to include it in my next Reconciliation Ecology class along with the above film.

Now what can we do to become better stewards of this spaceship Earth as we start another revolution around our Sun?

Jennifer Lawrence should’ve hung on to Ree’s ragged wardrobe for Katniss of Panem

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O8F8JtSVmI?wmode=transparent]

Just re-watched the haunting 2010 film “Winter’s Bone” with K, who could barely watch the shocking climax. It struck me again (as it must have others) that the Oscar-nominated 17-yr-old “Ree”, saddled with looking after two younger siblings and a chronically depressed mother, seems to have been Jennifer Lawrence’s audition role for the role of “Katniss” in the now mega-hit “Hunger Games“. Bone is grittier, more realistic, and therefore more shocking in some ways, although I also liked the Games very much for the punch it packs. Especially for S, who falls in the demographic for which that story is written/filmed.

I wish, though, that Lawrence had stuck with Ree’s ragged wardrobe and stark Ozark environs, instead of Katniss’s rather designer poverty-chic duds and the faux-retro 1920s coal miner / Appalachian look of District 12. Why on earth did they choose to make the poor people of Panem’s District 12, which is set in some indeterminately distant future of North America, look like they were from early 20th century Appalachia? There are plenty of poor folks in Appalachia (and the Ozarks) even now, and they for sure don’t dress like their ancestors did a 100 years ago! Why would they go back in the future? The contemporary Ozarks landscape as depicted in Winter’s Bone – which was filmed on location in real contemporary homes in Missouri’s hinterland – carries more degradation and menace than anything in the production design of the Hunger Games‘ District 12.

Even S, who now likes to pretend she is Katniss with home-made bow-and-arrow prowling the woods in our suburban backyard on lazy springtime afternoons, found the movie’s Katniss too fancily dressed up (even before the reaping and the Capitol makeover) to be the real huntress on the pages of the powerful book. Its like Ree from the Ozarks got a makeover to become Katniss from District 12, who was then transformed into a shiny recruit in the hunger games, and eventually the symbolic Mockingjay. Guess which incarnation came closest to winning an Oscar and which one is sweeping the box office?

Why didn’t they get Debra Grabnik (who crafted the sucker punch packed in Winter’s Bone) to direct the Hunger Games franchise too instead of Gary Ross, who did a good enough job sticking close to the book, but smoothed some of the potentially rougher edges even in the production design? Will they draw courage from the box office success now to make the next two episodes look more realistically grittier (like the Harry Potter franchise did)? Let’s hope so.

Because forgetting is another kind of extinction…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJrqHFeDKaY?wmode=transparent]

Another documentary to look out for…

Once, flocks of over 1 billion passenger pigeons darkened the skies for days. By 1900, a 14-year-old boy shot the last one. How did this happen?

The Lost Bird Project is a documentary about the stories of five birds driven to extinction in modern times and sculptor Todd McGrain’s project to memorialize them. The film follows McGrain as he searches for the locations where the birds were last seen in the wild and negotiates for permission to install his large bronze sculptures there.

McGrain’s aim in placing the sculptures is to give presence to the birds where they are now so starkly absent. “These birds are not commonly known,” he says, “and they ought to be, because forgetting is another kind of extinction. It’s such a thorough erasing.”

McGrain’s passion for form is apparent when he speaks of the physicality of a life of sculpting. “Touch is literally the way we come in contact with the world.” The memorials are not naturalistic works of biological detail, McGrain’s intention is to create shapes that capture the presence of the birds, to make them personal and palpable, to remind us of their absence.

Travelling all the way from the tropical swamps of Florida to the rocky coasts of Newfoundland, McGrain scouts locations, talks to park rangers and speaks at town meetings in an effort to gather support for his project. His memorials now stand in the places where the birds once socialized, courted and fed their young — a testament to what we have lost and a reminder to preserve what we have left.

The film is an elegy to the five birds and a thoughtful and sometimes humorous look at the artist and his mission. The Lost Bird Project is a film about public art, extinction and memory

The Crisis of Civilization: a fun, uplifting preview of the end of the world?!

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/32074939 w=500&h=283]

The Crisis of Civilization, due to premiere [in London] tomorrow, is a documentary film that is remarkably pleasant to watch considering its subject mattert: the looming destruction of civilisation as we know it.

The film looks into how “global crises like ecological disaster, financial meltdown, dwindling oil reserves, terrorism and food shortages are converging symptoms of a single, failed global system.”

Over less than 80 minutes of running time, Dr Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, the principal narrator of the film – and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It – draws a compelling portrait of the emerging economical, political and environmental trends that are likely to shape our common future over the next few decades.

His thesis is devastating in its simplicity: unless structural changes are introduced to the way we run our world, we won’t make it past this century, possibly not even the halfway mark.

That sure sounds like a fun evening at the cineplex, doesn’t it? Nothing quite like a cheery tour of the end of civilization, eh? Here’s what Grist has to say:

The new documentary The Crisis of Civilization is the most user-friendly exploration of imminent doom you’ll ever see. Through interviews, found footage, and animation, the film actually manages to make the unwinding of our conventional, fossil-fueled, more-is-more industrial civilization accessible. And importantly, it pays just as much attention to solutions as to problems.

Nafeez Ahmed, the documentary’s narrator, whom I’ve interviewed in the past, is a professor of international relations and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It. He’s also smart as hell, knowledgeable on a broad scale, and a master of synthesizing the implications of climate change and peak energy for terrorism, national security, and our increasingly fragile world food supply. In other words, he’s the sort of academic we ignore at our peril.

So how can you ignore that? More importantly, how can you actually go see the film – if you’re not in London this week to catch the free premiere screenings? Try to arrange a local screening yourself – as I’m going to try to do on campus, and locally through Fresno Filmworks, perhaps as part of their next festival.

In the meantime, here’s another clip about the movie:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=?wmode=transparent]


The Sad Plight of the Silky Sifaka

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/25109845 w=480&h=270]

Green: Science

Lemurs are in trouble. The cute wide-eyed primates have been threatened for decades, but their situation has recently worsened. Over the last five years, political instability and corruption in Madagascar, their only native country, has led to extensive deforestation and habitat destruction, even in officially protected areas.

Some estimates place the current loss of Madagascar’s forest cover at almost 90 percent. What’s left has come under increasing pressure from armed gangs of criminal loggers.

While hundreds of lemur species call Madagascar home, the silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus), a timid white fluffy variety, is at most risk of extinction. Estimates on the remaining number of silkys, known as the “angels of the forest” for their white fur and tree-hopping acrobatic abilities, range from 300 to 2,000. The silky is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates.

The silky’s plight is documented in an online documentary called “Trouble in Lemur Land.” The film follows an American primatologist named Eric Patel, who is trying to save the silky or to at least learn as much as possible about the animal before it goes extinct.

Read the rest of the article by Erik Olsen on the New York Times’ Green Blog

Things not to do in the cinema: the Wittertainment Code of Conduct (not in 3D)


You do listen to their (now miraculous and up-for-sainthood!) weekly show regularly, don’t you, if you claim to be any kind of cinephile?

Here’s the poster version of the above Code of Conduct for you to print out and share at your own local cinema:



Teaching an endangered bird its ancestral migratory pathways: a real life “Fly Away Home”

Here’s an inspiring tale of a crazy/passionate/bizarre/creative/extreme effort to save an endangered species – the Northern Bald Ibis: teaching captive-hatched young ones of the species their ancestral migratory pathways by having them follow human foster parents flying in microlight aircraft! Crazy, right? Or reconciliation ecology at its most inspiring?


Of course, this reminds me of one of our favorite family feel-good movies of all time, the wonderful Fly Away Home. If you haven’t seen it yet – and why not??!! – here’s a trailer:

That film is among my top comfort movies, especially in the company of my daughters.

And, having brought that up, how can I not also share this song, from the loveliest flying sequence in the movie, towards the end when the geese follow their “mama” down to their winter home: