Sunday, June 07, 2015

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 - PLANETARY

We here at the blog formerly known as Movie Reviews for Greedy Capitalist Bastards don’t take kindly to being forced to sit through an hour of pro-environmentalist propaganda having been lured into the screening room under the false promise of a film about space travel. But let’s be generous, even if the marketing department got this film room, and it wasn’t our fault for misreading the content of the documentary, the completely heavy-handed, unbalanced and dull presentation of the environmental message was reason enough to hate this film.

So here’s what the deal is. We start off PLANETARY with some cool footage of space shuttle launches and interviews with awe-inspired astronauts talking about the beauty of planet earth and how the perspective of seeing it from space forces you to see our presence on it as part of a holistic organic process. Fair enough. There’s a wonderful Ron Howard documentary called IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON which features extensive interviews with Buzz Aldrin and it really does inspire you with a similar feeling of awe and wonder but also of custody and conservatorship.

By contrast, what we have here is a film that hangs a sharp left and becomes a series of talking heads telling us how we humans have to learn to respect planet earth and to live in harmony with our co-inhabitants. We are meant to be shocked by the knowledge that we are living in a time of mass extinction and environmental degradation. And by the way, the solution to all of this is going to be respecting the wisdom of native cultures and taking mindfulness yoga classes so that we can be empathetic.

Now, I am all for respecting native cultures and learning from them where possible. And I am all for greater empathy. I also believe that human beings are causing near-irreparable damage to this planet and that the time for action is here, and then some. But did I come to any of those conclusions from watching this documentary? No. Because this documentary doesn’t show me one thing to prove or support its claims. Rather, it just trots out one talking head after another. The two films that really changed my thinking on all this were Al Gore’s AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and then CHASING ICE because both of them showed by with graphic visuals and time lapse photography how the polar ice-cap was melting. This is a valuable lesson that the young, earnest film-makers behind PLANETARY would do well to take on board. Good documentary film-making is about show not tell. It’s about using the medium of cinema, which is after all a visual rather than an aural medium, and instead of patronising the audience, assuming that they are intelligent and empathetic enough to respond to the arguments presented to them. Let a man reach his own conclusions and you might just change his actions. Hector him, and he’s lost to you.

PLANETARY played SXSW, HotDocs and Sheffield 2015.  It was released on streaming services in the USA earlier this year and does not yet have a commercial release date in the UK. The film has a running time of 85 minutes.

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