Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, written and co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal, is an exceptional cinematic catalogue of human-made changes to the planet.
The filmmakers traveled across six continents to collect various case studies in support of the scientific thesis that the Earth has entered into a new geological era called the anthropocene, which is marked by drastic and potentially irreversible human intervention into all strata of the environment.
The viewer is taken on a tour of human industriousness around the world, from ivory trade in Kenya and lithium production in Chile to heavy metal factories in Russia and the timber industry in Canada.
“Catalogue” feels like an appropriate term here; unlike most environmentalist documentaries out there, Anthropocene assumes no moral high ground, doesn’t preach, implore, judge or display righteous indignation. It simply shows the ways in which we humans change our planet.
Some of these ways are even done in the service of noble aspirations that define our civilization, such as art; a great example shown in the film is a massive marble quarry in Italy, whose history a worker there dates back to Michelangelo. The massive slabs of rock being chipped from the mountainside by heavy machinery are then juxtaposed with beautiful marble statues in an artist’s workshop.
Most refreshingly, the film makes its case not so much through words, but through the power of the moving image. The heavy lifting here is done by extraordinary aerial footage, which succeeds in showing the sheer scope of resource extraction, urbanization
The narration, provided by Alicia Vikander, is contained and only serves to provide definitions of key terms like terraforming, technofossils, and so on, or to briefly contextualize a certain scene with relevant statistical data. In most case studies, however, the filmmakers prefer the story be told by a worker on-site, or the local inhabitants, which makes the tone of the documentary much more authentic than if it were overexplained by narration.
I presume this film could convince many of its viewers—even those not already on board with the concerns of environmentalists—of the fact that certain aspects of human endeavor are potentially self-destructive. It may achieve this because it avoids emotionally charged language and in fact eschews language wherever possible.
In this way, the viewer does not stand accused but simply gains a better perspective.
‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch’ screens at HIFF Love and Anarchy on September 23, 26 and 28.