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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: 180° South: Conquerers of the Useless

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February 26, 2010

Movie Review Friday: 180° South: Conquerers of the Useless

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme that’s currently in theaters or available on DVD. Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a review of 100 or fewer words and look for it in the next Movie Review Friday.

180° South: Conquerors of the Useless (2010)   

Available on DVD


In 1968, best friends Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, future founders of Patagonia and the North Face, hopped into an old bus and undertook a 5,000-mile trek down the Pan-American Highway, (a mere dirt road at the time), climbing and surfing their way to the continent's tip. Inspired by footage of this free-spirited adventure, Jeff Johnson, a fellow surfer and climber, set out in 2007 to make a similar trip, traveling by boat with a small crew to Santiago, Chile, then over land to Patagonia. Filmmaker Chris Malloy documents the epic, soulful journey.

The film won't disappoint surfing and climbing buffs—it includes plenty of footage of both. But it speaks to a wider audience too, as an introspective travelogue. Part of what Johnson learns is to embrace the voyage's unpredictability and the opportunities inherent in its hardships. When the boat’s mast snaps in half, the group is forced to take a month-long detour to Easter Island. There, they meet Makohe, a Rapa Nui who joins them for the rest of the trip.

Travel also serves as a theme by which to contemplate our place in the natural world. Chaotic street scenes contrast vividly with serene natural landscapes to convey a strong environmental message. In Patagonia, the group meets up with Tompkins and Chouinard, both dedicated environmentalists. Tompkins has worked for decades to establish and expand Corcovado National Park, which now encompasses more than 2 million acres.

The film is a visual feast of remote, beautiful spots; it's jarring to learn of forces that threaten them, whether they be pulp mills polluting the Chilean coastline or dams being constructed on the rivers. 180° South is both a celebration of the natural world and a reminder of its fragility.

--Wendy Becktold

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