We are Planetary

“Thousands of species are disappearing every year.

Back in the 1980s, there was a conference at the Smithsonian, and they made an announcement:

“We are in the middle of this mass extinction. There has never been a moment more destructive in the last 65 million years than our moment.”

It was so colossal, so depressing, I couldn’t sleep that night.

The next morning I went out and I bought the New York Times. And the announcement of this mass extinction, was on page 26. That means that we humans found 25 pages of news items more important than the elimination of life on the planet Earth.

At that moment I realized something was profoundly wrong with our human civilization.”

These are the jaw dropping words of Professor Brian Swimme, recorded and presented in what was probably the most important film of 2015 – Planetary.

PLANETARY - KEY IMAGE ┬® Planetary Collective
Image: Planetary Key Image © Planetary Collective

Tragically, something similar seems to have happened to this film, as happened to the 1986 Smithsonian announcement.

Despite the roaring successes of Overview and Call to Earth (the latter a powerful message from the International Space Station’s Astronauts to COP21), Planetary has been ushered out of the spotlight by a handful of excruciatingly lazy reviews.

Take Leslie Felperin, as a case in point. The film’s tapestry of ecological analysis, which draws on at least eight indigenous leaders, was for Leslie “a lot of vague hippy ideas.” This dismissal is a missed opportunity for Leslie, and a shame on The Guardian.

Just some of the film’s “hippy ideas” are:

Image: Boudhanath Stupa, Nepal © Planetary Collective

Far from vague, these ideas are intuitive…

We don’t know what will happen if major parts of the web of life disappear.

says Dr Lawrence Ellis.

Evolution is everybody’s autobiography.

explains Wes Nisker.

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Image: Bogor rainforest, Indonesia © Planetary Collective

As with Al Jazeera’s earthrise, the film also manages to rupture the griping, contrarian melancholy tends to pollute environmental commentary. More cruially, the film goes where environmentalists avoid – apathy. Others tend to build their guilt-propelled narrative into what they hope will be a tactical blow to the hegemony of reckless growth, destruction and pollution.

The Planetary Collective take a different approach. Instead, they take a sustained, quiet, honest look at our ecological detachment. Poked by a handful of gentle questions, this detachment is allowed to unravel.

There are plenty of bridges between Planetary and Koyaanisqatsi, the 1982 avant-garde visual phenomena. Both films commence with a roaring NASA blastoff, and both draw on Hopi culture for insipiration – “koyaanisqatsi” translates to “life out of balance”.

Then there are the time-lapses of city people, and the shots of the Ongtupqa/Wika’ila/The Grand Canyon, and the Las Vegas women. Both are masterpieces of cinematography, and Koyaanisqatsi serves well as an unofficial prequel. Where Godfrey Reggio and Ron Frike thundered home the planetary crisis in 1982, Guy Reid and Steve Watts Kennedy have weaved together a solution for 2015.

And where Koyaanisqatsi was accompanied by the nauseating beauty of Philip Glass, Planetary is accompanied by the hushed shimmer of Human Suits.

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Image: Couple sitting apart, Tokyo © Planetary Collective

Every talking head featured in this film is worth keeping an eye on (you can read up on the cast here, I’ve also compiled this newsfeed).

It’s surprising that David Abram didn’t get his mouth on a microphone, and that there were not more non-American voices may be a missed opportunity. Kevin Buzzacott, Jonathan Nadji, Ted Trainer, James Lovelock, Helena Norberg-Hodge and Stephan Harding come to mind. Perhaps there wasn’t the budget. Perhaps some of them can make it into a sequel, or at least the forthcoming journal.

Planetary is not another environment documentary. It is a metaphysical, biological, ecological, cosmological, geological, and above all deeply intuitive statement on Earth’s human civilization.



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