Friday, April 20, 2012

"Surviving Progress": a compendium of moral lessons about sustainability and inconvenient truths


Surviving Progress”, a new Canadian (read Quebec) film by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, may view (over 82 minutes) like a compendium of moral lectures, link-edited over several other similar films.  (It’s based on the book “A Short History of Progress” by Ronald Wright, published by Da Capo, 2005, easy to find on Amazon.)  It starts kindly, with a chimpanzee (joined by baby) coming into a cell to play with blocks.  Later, it will make the point that a human child will quickly ask “why” (in terms of basic Newtonian physics) a particular block keeps tumbling when stood up, but a chimp won’t.  That extra genetically-determined brain ability went on to lead us eventually to build civilization.  The film makes that point quickly with impressive shots of astronauts doing spacewalks, and later provides animation showing how apes evolve through humans into space robots able to leave the planet.

But the “software” of our civilization runs on 50,000-year-old hardware in the wiring of our brains. 
    
Really, this is a lesson about sustainability, although not always with the same conclusions as other moralist.  Rather than rant about demographic winter (like the Right), to says our planet can support less than half its current population. And people are overly attached to “things” at the expense of relationships with “people as people” (to quote my own father).

But the biggest problem is debt.  Until about the time of the Roman Empire, ancient civilizations tended to repudiate debts, in order to restore peace and relieve business depression. That was easy when governments owned most of the wealth. Once there was a capitalist financial oligarchy, it wouldn’t let go.  It would go to war to keep its wealth from being confiscated, possibly by revolution.  So the viewpoint in this documentary is definitely on the far Left, which can indeed become “so moralistic”.  I recall sitting in on a meeting of the People’s Party of New Jersey in a drafty Newark rowhouse in December 1972 and listening them demand “a maximum income of $50000 a year and an end to inherited wealth”.  The film actually warns people with inheritances of spending their "principal" was well as living on the interest; sounds like Suze Orman. 

Visually, this film is striking, focusing mainly on China and Brazil. There is a “self-indulgent” escorted driving tour of the mountainous country in south China by wealthier people enjoying their cars, while rural poverty is shown.  Later, the incredible crowding of the high-rises in Sao Paolo is depicted.  The role of the "one percent" in depleting the Amazon rain forest is shown (without the paranormal effects of "The River"). 

But one of the most interest references is to “Friends of the Congo”, with a brief account of the “hole mines” for cassiterite, with the warlord-run “tax” system indenturing and enslaving workers, as just covered in Wednesday’s FilmfestDC movie “Blood in the Mobile”.  Here, the writers don’t get into the cell phone dependency problem specifically, but do so generally later when they talk about dependence on gadgets.
Stephen Hawking talks at one point, warning us that we need to make it through the next two centuries in order to figure out how to move to other planets.  And such an endeavor may take social capital tha we don’t have anymore.

The official site is here. The main production company is Cinemaginare, and Alliance Atlantis.  First Run Features is the theatrical distributor. Martin Scorsese ("Hugo", "Shutter Island") was an executive producer. 



Pictures: Other movie posters near Landmark on the street. 

The show, in a small Landmark E Street auditorium (not part of FilmfestDC) was nearly sold out. 

No comments: