Documentary Watchlist: Cows, Pipelines and Dams

One of the interesting insights I came to through my involvement in Blackfish, is that in the age of infotainment and cable-news superficiality, documentaries are filling an increasingly important niche. They are increasingly the best format to learn about almost any subject you choose. Not only are documentaries proliferating as film-making technology becomes more affordable and sophisticated, and as platforms on which to stream and view documentaries proliferate (making documentaries more accessible). But other news sources are becoming increasingly trivial, celebrified, and irrelevant.

So if you want facts, engagement, and inspiration, documentaries are where you should turn.

That’s what I have been doing, and I want to flag three documentaries I have recently seen that are worth seeking out and watching.

The first is Cowspiracy. It tackles an issue that is almost inexplicable, and that is the degree to which environmental organizations and nonprofits avoid educating their communities about the single most powerful choice an individual can make to protect the planet: stop eating meat.

Cowspiracy does a really nice job both explaining why this is so and calling the environmental movement out on this failure of courage. That makes for sometimes humorous, sometimes intriguing, but always enraging and enlightening viewing.

Here’s the trailer:

Cowspiracy Official Trailer from First Spark Media on Vimeo.

And here’s how you can find a local screening. I’m hoping to take my kids to the Sept. 23 screening in DC.

The second is Above All Else, which was recently screened here in DC as part of the long-running and invaluable Environmental Film Festival.

Above All Else is ostensibly about the Keystone pipeline, and the fight put up by some east Texas families whose private property was seized under the principle of “eminent domain” so the pipeline could cross their lands. But it is not really a film about climate change (though that hovers in the background, and helps makes the fight worth fighting) so much as it is a devastating exegesis on corporate power, and all the ways in which a large, multi-billion dollar entity can marshall all the resources of the legal system, the political system, and even local law enforcement to crush the rights and privacy of the individual.

If you don’t already think we live in a corporate oligarchy then this movie will slap you awake. And even if you do, the way in which the film builds your empathy for the families and individuals who painfully and inevitably get run over by the Keystone project and the corporate power behind it will hopefully sharpen your desire to take a stand against the growing imbalance between corporate power and individual rights.

And maybe the twenty-somethings who converge on east Texas to sit in trees and try to stop the shockingly efficient industrial process which clears them will both inspire you and maybe even motivate you to go sit in a tree somewhere too.

Here’s the trailer:

ABOVE ALL ELSE Trailer from John Fiege on Vimeo.

And here’s info about screenings.

Finally, make sure you also find time to check out Dam Nation. It’s a powerful film about how the relentless damming of America’s rivers during the growth of industrialization had devastating consequences for the fish (especially salmon)  and other species that happened to, um, live in and and rely on the rivers. It’s also about the inspiring movement to undo at least some of that damage.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s info about screenings.

All three of these movies will inform you, inspire you, and (hopefully) energize you. The thing I love about the documentaries that are being made these days is that they are SUPPOSED to do all those things to you. Gone are the days of droning presentation of fact, with a tedious voice-over.

Film is such a powerful medium, it is so increasingly central to how we view our lives and the planet, and we are in such crisis that it is exciting and reassuring to see film-makers everywhere trying to shock and move audiences that are being narcotized and distracted by the pablum and consumerism being spoon-fed by the corporate media.

No one should have any qualms about film-making that aspires to motivate audiences to change how they live, and take action to try and change the world around them. That’s exactly what documentary film-making should be about in this era.

Bill McKibben Calls Out The Democrats On Climate Change

And breaks down clearly the challenge of arresting climate change before it hits a catastrophic tipping point. He knows the Republicans are hopeless, but he hopes that the Democrats can “evolve” on climate change faster than they did on gay rights and marriage:

Unlike gay rights or similar issues of basic human justice and fairness, climate change comes with a time limit. Go past a certain point, and we may no longer be able to affect the outcome in ways that will prevent long-term global catastrophe. We’re clearly nearing that limit and so the essential cowardice of too many Democrats is becoming an ever more fundamental problem that needs to be faced. We lack the decades needed for their positions to “evolve” along with the polling numbers. What we need, desperately, is for them to pitch in and help lead the transition in public opinion and public policy.

He doesn’t have much hope that they will, though, which is why his thinking leads him back to the necessity for a powerful citizens movement to change the culture and change politics:

And so, as I turn this problem over and over in my head, I keep coming to the same conclusion: we probably need to think, most of the time, about how to change the country, not the Democrats. If we build a movement strong enough to transform the national mood, then perhaps the trembling leaders of the Democrats will eventually follow. I mean, “evolve”. At which point we’ll get an end to things like the Keystone pipeline, and maybe even a price on carbon. That seems to be the lesson of Stonewall and of Selma. The movement is what matters; the Democrats are, at best, the eventual vehicle for closing the deal.

The closest thing I’ve got to a guru on American politics is my senator, Bernie Sanders. He deals with the Democrat problem all the time. He’s an independent, but he caucuses with them, which means he’s locked in the same weird dance as the rest of us working for real change.

A few weeks ago, I gave the keynote address at a global warming summit he convened in Vermont’s state capital, and afterwards I confessed to him my perplexity. “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement,” I said. “A movement vast enough to scare or hearten the weak-kneed.”

“There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it,” he replied.

McKibben makes a key point. The challenge of climate warming (along with the ongoing destruction of the environment) is not a challenge that allows for decades of slow and incremental change. These are not ordinary times. These are times that call for revolutions in the way we think and act.

I am constantly struck by the fact that previous generations were in the streets to protest and decry injustice and immorality. Yet out streets are quiet. Hopefully, that will change because the times demand bold thinking and bold action. Nothing less will pass moral muster when the history of this epoch is judged (and hopefully not lamented).

Graphic Interlude: The Life Of “Fox Guy”

The story of an animal activist (via Our Hen House), or an ode to the virtues of “radicalism.” Inspired, and oddly inspiring (side note: why didn’t “tool libraries” take off? Great idea).

Here’s the first panel (read on from there):

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