Framing the Earth

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

Scene from Earth Days

APRIL 22 is Earth Day, and has been since 1970, when a bunch of Harvard graduates organized a grass roots teach-in on the environment.

The history of Earth Day is the subject of Earth Days, the closing film at the second Projecting Change Film Festival (www.projectingchange.ca). The film fest, which saw 2,200 attendees last year, could itself easily be titled “Earth Days” with its strong environmental focus. (The film festival runs April 2-5 at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, 2110 Burrard Street.)

Earth Days is a well-crafted documentary that, through interviews with key participants in the green movement, taps a rich vein of optimism and hope while acknowledging that an awful lot of damage has been inflicted on our fragile planet. (www.earthdaysmovie.com)

The story of Earth Day and the development of the environmental movement are closely intertwined: writer-director Robert Stone’s enjoyable film suggests that you can pinpoint the start of the modern environmental movement to the first Earth Day in 1970. People like Rachel Carson, with her pesticides exposé Silent Spring published in 1962, created a new sensitivity toward the environment, but it wasn’t until millions took to the streets across the US on that first Earth Day that people realized they were linked by a common concern. A political force had been born. Nixon – not generally remembered for his green credentials – created the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor pollutants in the same year.

Stone’s choice of nine interviewees reflects his interest in the political development of environmentalism over the years in the US with inside stories from original Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, early environmental author and former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and eco-conscious Republican congressman Pete McCloskey. There’s a sense of achievement mixed with amusement and regret, but perhaps the most poignant moments are when the interviewees talk about their memories of life before land started being gobbled up by post-war development.

Stone reels off copious amounts of archive footage, particularly of utopian fifties’ visions of the future, to put us in the right mindset and contrasts it effectively with the contrarian, ecological warnings of authors Paul Ehrlich and Dennis Meadows and Earth Times editor Stephanie Mills, who chose not to have a child for environmental reasons. They make a good point that their predictions of ecological collapse due to exponential population growth were not necessarily wrong; we just put them off for a while.

The BBC wildlife series Earth has been re-edited into a feature length movie for theatrical release. Expect nothing short of stunning imagery of the natural world, although sanitized of its bloodier aspects for family viewing.Earth comes out on, you guessed it, Earth Day.

Robert Alstead maintains a blog at www.2020Vancouver.com

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