Civilization’s success is measured by the speed of progress: technological, medical, economical and social. But what if this drive and desire for progress results in our ultimate undoing?
Based on Ronald Wright’s bestseller A Short History of Progress, and adapted by Canadian filmmakers Matthieu Roy and Harold Cook, Surviving Progress challenges viewers by showing that the technological and capitalist advances we’re making in the name of civilization are actually threatening the existence of humanity.
Key speakers David Suzuki and Margaret Atwood passionately argue that we have financed an unsustainable growth rate by encouraging less developed nations to take out unrealistic mortgages, thereby forcing them to sell off their natural resources as a way to clear the debt. The tragic deforestation of Brazil’s rainforests, and large-scale industrial farming of Africa’s land are visually striking and potent examples of the way that the planet is forced to pay for our excesses and consumer driven lifestyles.
Roy and Cook travel across the globe to capture and show how once these natural resources have been depleted, the corporations take the money and leave behind a wasteland, moving onto other nations. It’s hard to ignore the visual evidence that stacks up, shows how our model of “progress” is exacerbating poverty and destroying our planet.
Harshly critical of the banking industry, environmental destruction, consumerism and overpopulation, the film has been labelled a “doomsday” documentary by some, and criticised for not offering any solutions or optimism. Which isn’t entirely true, we hear Stephen Hawking’s electronic voice offer that if we don’t “improve” ourselves into extinction over the next 200 years, we should have the technology to go off world and start again. Funnily enough this is also George Lucas’ solution to our dilemma. Didn’t they see Wall-E?
In contrast, offering some sobering advice that 99% of audiences won’t want to hear, environmental expert Vaclav Smil suggests that the answer is minimising our consumption – do we really need three cars, central heating and a $5,000 bathroom makeover? If our demands outweigh what the planet can provide and we destroy it, where are we going to enjoy these luxuries? The audience is left to judge what the right course of action should be.
But there is still hope, after all the film is called Surviving Progress and not The Fall of Civilization. The title suggests that we’re at a stage now where we’ve identified that our concept of ‘progress’ isn’t sustainable and we can begin addressing these global issues and plan for a better future. While the documentary doesn’t provide any concrete answers, it is an eloquent exploration of humanity that asks all the right question, using eye catching time lapse editing, a mesmerising soundtrack reminiscent of Sigur Ros, it leaves viewers with plenty of food for thought and the uncomfortable feeling that this may very well become a doomsday documentary if fail to change.
Review Score: 7 out of 10
Surviving Progres is screening at Sydney’s Canadian Film Festival on August 15th.
Runtime: 86 minutes