In the beginning


• Given that recent polls suggest that around 40 percent of Americans believe that God created human beings in their present form 10,000 years ago, some people might consider Journey of the Universe quite a radical documentary. This story of the universe, which has screened on PBS, starts around 14 billion years ago with the Big Bang and it doesn’t talk explicitly about God. However, from start to finish, its enthusiastic narrator Brian Thomas Swimme shares his sense of awe at the miracle, and sometimes the mystery, of life – how life came into being and how we learned and adapted.


Swimme, who co-wrote the script with Yale University historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker, maintains a firmly evolutionary approach, yet at the same time conveys a deep sense of our interconnectedness with the universe and the planet that has borne us. “We are genetic cousins to every living being,” says the white-haired Swimme, as he wanders around the sun drenched Greek island of Naxos, stomping ground of the mathematician Pythagoras. He marvels, as his hero did, at the connection between life and patterns: “Is all life being organized?” he asks. Physics, genetics and anthropology are used to illustrate how we are “participants in a vast intricate system that is something like a living cell.”

In the best popular science way, this ambitious doc is backed up by some impressive visuals – CGIs of dinosaurs, space footage, deft image compositing – as Swimme brings us up to present day with a message about our social and ecological responsibilities. Journey of the Universe has a public screening on April 25 at the Canadian Memorial Church in Vancouver ( and a panel discussion follows.

Family-friendly One Life (out now) looks at the cool strategies animals have developed to survive. The smooth tones of narrator Daniel Craig pull together dependably gorgeous footage from BBC Earth, featuring normally solitary cheetahs that work as a team, the tool-using prowess of capuchin monkeys, a colony of ants that farms and the fishing magic of Florida dolphins. Enjoyable, although episodic.

The annual Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth returns to Vancity Theatre (April 13-20) with films covering difficult themes such as bullying, suicide, divorce and poverty. One film I can recommend is On the Sly (A Pas de Loup), a drama depicting childhood alienation, but treated in an original and humorous way. The story centres around a six-year-old, who, to test her theory that she’s invisible to her parents, slips into the forest where her solitary adventures begin. I saw the dubbed version, which, in spite of my misgivings, probably didn’t make a huge amount of difference, as the film is mostly an interior monologue seen through the child’s eyes. You hear rather than see the adults, except for the backs of heads and legs. It’s a child’s world, but grown-ups should enjoy it too. Even the ambiguous ending teases with possibilities.

Finally, a viewing of the documentary White Water, Black Gold reminded me why passions are running so high over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipelines Project. Debut director David Lavallee travels to the Tar Sands water source at Snow Dome mountain where glaciers are in rapid retreat. Following the flow to the cancer hotspot of Fort Chipewyan, he discovers some seriously lax environmental protection and that when water meets tar, “truth is liquid.”

Robert Alstead writes at

Leave a comment