“You can’t blame the mayor, those days are over,” was one of several astute observations in Earth Keepers, this year’s recipient of Best Canadian Long Form film at the 10th annual Planet in Focus International Environmental Film & Video Festival. The statement was made by John Todd, one of the founders of the New Alchemy Institute, and creator of a greenhouse waste treatment system that filters sewage into potable water.
Todd is one of seven vanguards of the eco-movement that inspire Quebec activist Mikael Rioux who is embarked on a global quest to learn ways to make his community a more sustainable environment for his child. Rioux, once an angry protestor who went as far as pouring water on the head of a Quebec politician while being interviewed for TV, eventually realized that anger and violence were not going to save a threatened river in his town of Trois-Pistoles. The river is slated to be dammed for a mere 3.8 megawatts of electricity – not enough to power even one modern electric locomotive.
Therein lies the problem with the film. I didn’t know what 3.8 megawatts of electricity could power until I did my own research. There is something to be said for the motivational documentary versus the information documentary; they are capable of telling two very different yet equally compelling stories on the same subject matter. The danger is falling somewhere in the middle – in this vast wasteland you risk preaching to the converted as this film does.
I liked the characters in the film – Humanist Economist Peter Koenig said something along the lines of “consciousness equals self-sovereignty,” a phrase that provides me with lovely mental calesthenics. But Mikael is not nearly as engaging. “The reason I chose Mikael as my subject is because he is angry, and in the future there will be a lot of angry young people,” said filmmaker Sylvie Van Brabant as she acceped the award. I understand Brabant’s decision to use Rioux as a device to propel the story forward, but as a character to encite change, he falls flat.
The film itself is solid enough, Mikael-as-plot-device works on a mechanical level, the production value and graphics are clean and jazzy, the music lively and engaging, the characters interesting visionaries, but the film is too long. Cut to 42 minutes for television would provide more of an impact for audiences – but that begs the question, which audience?
For people new to the idea of sustainability, there is not enough practical information to convince. For people already thinking about alternatives, this film is not going to provide the inspiration to make change. It doesn’t come close to making the heart race the way that Velcrow Ripper’s Fierce Light does. And that’s a problem if you are trying to inspire your audience into action.