Posted on August 21, 2009 by
“Is this the screening for —”? I began to ask the polyester-vested line attendant. He cut me off with a snippy, “Yes. Where’s your pass?”
Pass? I asked myself. What pass? Allie didn’t say anything about a pass! Oh, crap. The line was already seventy-five people long and growing like Octomom in her last trimester. I was pleasantly surprised that the screening for Robert Stone’s Earth Day: The Seeds of a Revolution was receiving such a large turn-out. I was also worried that the film’s popularity made my chances of talking my way into the screening about as thin as the ice left on the Arctic sea. I didn’t relish having to email Allie to tell her that I missed the screening because I had forgotten my pass.
Now, I’m not one to judge — well, I sometimes judge, but not without a very good reason — but the crowd zealously grasping their passes did not look quite like a group clamoring to see a film about Earth Day. The tourists were clearly identifiable by their newly minted Yankees baseball caps and cheap I Heart NY t-shirts. The locals shuffled through the line avoiding eye contact as they tweeted, texted, and dialed. The line just didn’t have a “Hooray for the Earth!” vibe.
I tried again, “Excuse me sir, is this the screening for Earth Day?”
“Earth Day?” he responded, squinching his face into a disdainful question mark with a dot at the bottom and all. “What’s that? No, this is the screening for The Time Traveler’s Wife.” The crowd nervously backed away from me as if I would lunge for the coveted passes in their hands. I probably would have, too. I know I could’ve knocked one of the giggling Gossip Girl fashionistas off her BCBG Wedges and grabbed her pass but I’d promised Allie that I would attend the environmentally friendly screening. So, I’d like everyone to remember my sacrifice if I’m ever accused of not doing enough for the environment.
I walked a few blocks east and found The Core Club where the film was being shown. I thought The Core Club, an exclusive, pricey, members-only club, was an interesting venue for a screening about the rise of a grass roots movement. Wine, water, and mojitos were offered in slim minimalist glassware. No paper cups or bottled water in sight. In fact, many of the attendees brought their own eco-friendly aluminum water bottles. You should get one or you, too, may curse the day you missed the opportunity to fill an aluminum flask with free mojitos. I bought a 32-ouncer.
I felt a bit out of my element as those around me discussed their various environmental projects and latest forays into eco-activism. My environmental resume includes using a canvas bag for groceries — when I remember to take it — and switching to energy efficient light bulbs when they were on sale. I was hoping that the film would show me practical ways that I — a city dweller with minimal space, time, and finances — could go green.
The lights went down, the film went up, and the mojitos were delicious even if I didn’t have a quart of them strapped to my waist with a hemp rope. I anticipated a propaganda film about the earth with dramatic shots of old growth forests being ripped from their roots by Brawny paper towel men wielding double-headed axes named Tree Mugger and the Ozone Rearranger. Instead, Robert Stone’s film is an balanced look at the successes and mistakes of the environmental movement from its birth during the post-war boom of the 1950s through its crash during the 1980’s, when America’s obsession for more! more! more! together with politics, corporate greed, and special interest groups caused the environmental movement to lose momentum. The stars of the film are the students, activists, scientists, and politicians who looked beyond their desire for immediate satisfaction of their every whim through consumerism to the harmful impact our excesses were, and still are, having on our future. All that in two hours and mojitos, too! Talk about instant gratification!
Told through the use of archival footage interlaced with commentary and interviews from leading proponents of the green movement past and present, the film never feels like a study-hall lecture or an us versus them pontification. The images of protests, sit-ins, and back-to-theearth communes are juxtaposed against the rising consumerism of American culture. Candy-colored Technicolor archival film creates a sense of nostalgia as well as irony. Most of us have seen the clips of children frolicking in clouds of DEET and the time-lapsed footage of a grassy fields evolving into suburban sprawl, but it was always in the context of the joyous pursuit of the American Dream. Underlying the footage of smiling faces hawking the latest refrigerator and a family of four piling into the newest car on the market is the implication that the unbridled quest for the American Dream will ultimately lead to ecological ruin. I also got the impression that maybe owning a car in which a family of four can sit comfortably next to the latest refrigerator may be dreamy but is probably a tad overindulgent.
Stone’s film does not emotionally manipulate the viewer or seek to scare us into action with dire doomsday predictions. It’s not a religious film. Stone simply lays out the facts of overpopulation and overuse backed by scientific evidence through interviews from environmentalists such as Former Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall, environmental scientist and author of The Population Bomb Paul Erlich, and Earth Day founder Denis Hayes. The film offers a feast of information: we start with the humble beginnings of the green movement on college campuses, then move on to the grass roots activism that led to the first Earth Day in 1970, and finish with environmentalism used as a pawn for political grandstanding and public policy in the 1980s. The centerpiece at this banquet is factual support. Robert Stone is apparently no relation to Oliver.
Earth Day: The Seeds of Revolution is a well-crafted documentary that explores the cultural and social conditions surrounding the rise and fall of the green movement. That said, as I watched the documentary, I couldn’t help but ask myself who this film was intended to reach. I felt that new greenists would come away from the film with a historical perspective of the movement and many unanswered questions like “Now what?” Those steeped in the movement would have their commitment to the environment confirmed but not necessarily revitalized. Understanding that the film was intentionally limited in scope, it still felt unfinished. I wanted dessert and, damn it, I wanted it now.
As a history geek, I believe the documentary missed an opportunity to explore the green movement from a perspective other than the white middle/upper-class. At one point during the film, Denis Hayes is asked by a panel of politicians, “Where are all the black people?” It was disconcerting to hear the predominantly white audience members laugh at what I thought was a relevant and important question. Many of the people of color I know in the green movement are involved in environmental justice issues that seem to be an afterthought of the green movement. Stone’s excellent film had a chance to rise above the conventional by including the perspective and voices of people who, in my view, are traditionally marginalized by the movement. That’s one way it might have offered something new and different. It’s a good thing that the film left me craving more. I only wish it had delivered. I just didn’t feel like pushing my chair away from the table and consulting a specialist in liposuction at the end of the movie. There was no dessert. Maybe that’s an environmental message in itself, and maybe it’s a good thing to leave a film like Earth Day: The Seeds of Revolution feeling a bit unsatisfied and hungry. I picked up some ice cream on the way home.
Earth Days: Seeds of Revolution is an excellent look at a countercultural movement gone mainstream and trendy. Further information about the film and where you can see it can be found at the Earth Days web site [LINK: http://www.earthdaysmovie.com/]. Your theatre may insist that you BYOB.
I’m off to buy a ticket for The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’ll have my aluminum bottle with me just in case.
Dingo blogs and crafts fantastic pictures at As I Was Saying.