Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In SURVIVING PROGRESS Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks question the term itself

Just what is progress? If I want to get from Queens to Manhattan, and I cross the 59th Street Bridge heading west, then it's safe to say I have made some. But progress in the larger sense, when it applies to our earth and the environment we continue to create for it (and us), may not be nearly so easy to ascertain. Or so suggest French Canadian filmmaker Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, who have based their new documentary SURVIVING PROGRESS on the best-selling book A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright.

What Meisseurs Roy (shown at left) and Crooks (shown below) have actually given us is yet another in an increasing array of save-our-environment movies, to which we now see several more added each year. (Last week's was The Island President; next month we'll have Last Call at the Oasis.) I would say that this is a good thing, were I to see but one iota, even a tiny increment, of progress (there's that word again) along the road to survival. But I do not. Do you? Instead I simply see more movies, all of which in a sense are telling us the same thing, though each tends to have its own hook on which to hang the thesis: "Do something, for Christ's sake -- before it's too late!"

Long after the Maldive Islands have been swallowed up and any drinking water remaining -- pure or impure -- costs more than we can afford, Republicans and Fundamentalist Christians will still be screaming about Intelligent Design and the falsity of global warming, while the octopus-like grasp of international corporations will by then exert near-complete control. Until then, however, we will have these enviromental docs to remind us of what is happening. Surviving Progress does this by beginning with our friend and neighbor, the chimp (below) trying out a rigged experiment and of course falling short. A human could and would finally figure out what was going on because, as one scientist explains, "Humans ask why? Apes do not."

It's this why that leads to, perhaps, all human progress, and to the regression that some of that progress involves. The filmmakers then take us on a trip around the world, stopping at some of the usual points of interest: from burgeoning China to the disappearing rainforests of Brazil. In China (below) we meet a family in which a most interesting conversation/argument occurs between father and son, one generation disparaging the ideas/feelings of the other.

We hear from people as far afield as Jane Goodall and Margaret Atwood, Stephen Hawking and David Suzuki, and from geneticists, energy experts, students, professors, activists, scientists, psychologists, economists and more. We learn about economics and the dismal record of the IMF in the third world. (As one gentleman from the Congo tells us: "What is interesting is that all the money plundered from all the international debts is found in Western banks.") Perhaps the most interesting thing about this documentary is how the filmmakers connect the dots, allowing us to see how the players are all acting on each other: the economy, the environment, corporate and international greed.

Surviving Progress is one of the more all-encompassing of the recent documentaries. If you haven't seen many of the others, this one -- that proclaims no less than Martin Scorsese as one of its executive producers -- will make a fine start. If you have seen your share of these docs, well, one more reminder might not be amiss. The film, 86 minutes from First Run Features, opens this Friday, April 6, in New York City at the Cinema Village. For upcoming playdates with cities and theaters, click here.

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