Eco-Movies Worth Watching: "Elemental"
This week, we're reviewing new movies with environmental themes.
The recent documentary Elemental captures the environmental movement in amber — a pretty, present-day artifact of people trying to preserve our planet. The film doesn’t portend doom, nor reassure that good intentions will prevail; it’s more about human interaction than ecological destruction.
Elemental profiles Canadian activist Eriel Deranger in her campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline, Indian government official Rajendra Singh in his nationwide tour to galvanize citizens to clean up the Ganges river, and Australian inventor Jay Harman in his quest to get funding for biomimetic solutions to combatting climate change.
For all three, the biggest hurdle is not any ecological destruction itself (though there are looming aerial shots of the tar sands’ churned earth and yawning gray landscape, and a close-up of trash clotted on the banks of the sludgy brown river), but in rousing people to join their causes.
Even working within a major environmental organization, Deranger confronts the inertia of moving a large group. Her job includes navigating big-money, big-ego environmentalists who seem lured more to clinking cocktails at a fundraiser than learning what action that ground troops like Deranger think will make a difference. Deranger also struggles to enlist support of fellow First Nations people back home. Despite the destruction to their land, many aboriginal people need the jobs the oil industry provides.
Singh faces the same battle nearly 7,000 miles away, touring India and imploring communities to protect their national lifeblood. Dams and factories dotting the Ganges may damage ecosystems and pollute the water, but they also sustain people.
Harman, meanwhile, quests for financial backing for whirlpool-inspired, spiral-shaped devices he says can counter global warming. Prospective investors in Harman’s company, Pax Scientific, seem to wonder how investing in planet-saving technology can make money. One also expresses reservations that Pax’s chief operating officer is Harman’s wife.
Elemental doesn’t delve as deeply into Singh’s or Harman’s stories, but in 93 minutes, the film relays its subjects’ shared plight. For all, the problem arises of rallying a bunch of humans to support short-term changes that serve long-term gains.
For the modern environmental movement, and perhaps all great change, innovation and solutions come second.
Elemental is now available for download on iTunes and is screening at select theaters in the U.S., as well as at film festivals abroad.
Stay tuned to the Green Life this week for peeks at other eco-focused films.
Mackenzie Mount is an editorial intern at Sierra. She's cleaned toilets at Yellowstone National Park and studied sustainable cooking at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas.