Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Author: Jeremy Gunn

Dirt! The Movie Response

I really wish this film reached its potential, and then I would feel as though I could give a somewhat decent response; however, as I believe the methodology of education proves the most vital resource in the environmental movement, I cannot overlook the films blatant shortcomings. Of course, many of the issues plaguing our soil today remain a little known fact to the public, which could result in the construction of such a haphazard compilation of perspectives, but, as a documentary, a natural expectation of some cohesive message remains unsatisfied. Putting together a plethora of issues like monoculture, artificial fertilizer, soil erosion, desertification, etc. and pointing to the obvious correlation that all rely on the natural resource of dirt proves reminiscent of when I first learned to write and ask “so what?” at the end of my evidence (a sentiment I’m sure many of you can relate as a common tool in education today). The viewer leaves this film with half the picture, as these issues never become fully linked in the manner that they could, instead, only manifesting in a spiritual and emotional relationship. That is not to say, however, that such an approach is not beneficial, but, rather, that the inclusion of a more scientific and economic approach to dirt could have tied this film to back to reality and our contemporary society.

Said haphazard construction makes determining the intended audience of this film rather difficult; on the one hand, we have child-friendly animations, and, on the other hand, imagery of death and suicide in India in some of the most economically depressing circumstances. While multiple perspectives proves a useful tool in the examination of our own arguments, too many from too many disciplines dilutes focus. The viewer does not see simply a multitude of issues, but a multitude of demeanors ranging from depressed to hopeful that results in a confused and unsure audience. How am I supposed to feel at the end of this film? Even now, I am unsure of how to answer that question. Is the sole purpose of the film to simply emphasize dirt as the natural resource of the natural environment? If so, I’m not sure such a film was in need. I believe we all think of dirt this way, so drawing attention to the issues in a cohesive manner that points toward an attempt or drive to create a solution proves far more important than expressing such. The film misses an opportunity to deliver some very pertinent information from some very interesting and unconventional voices in an otherwise unprecedented manner and issue that would have made this a powerful piece.

It is crucial to get information out there, but we should not be in such a rush that we lose sight of our goals. This film could have benefitted from a more thorough and careful construction of evidence, as well as the inclusion of more tangible disciplines. By evading the economic discussion of dirt, the film avoids limiting the definition of dirt to a specific country, as we would have begun to think of dirt in capitalistic terms, but this becomes the films ultimate downfall. Without that drive, how can we expect the average person in the US, the country responsible for a large portion of environmental damage, to change their views when the discussion is not in his terminology?

Last Call at the Oasis Response

Rarely will you hear me rave about the opening credits of a film, but the evocative nature of the images of water presented by Jessica Yu start this movie with the proper imagery: the preciousness off water as a pristine, natural resource has been threatened, and the time for a call to actions has nearly passed. That the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas expansion issue becomes relevant so early in the film, especially considering the rather controversial statements put forth with the proposal of a pipeline to preserve said constructions, becomes a powerful device for the audience by an ultimate portrayal of fairly complicated issue. The ethical question proposed with the anxieties compared in the town that will be afflicted by the pipeline and the overseer of the pipeline proposal remains one of the most famous ethical dilemmas today, portraying the situation as not one of right and wrong (we obviously do not want to make an objective decision between the lives of people) but one of “how can we solve the issue creating the issue?” Especially at a time when it has become increasingly easy to get swept up in the countercultural movements of our age, I am relieved to see such a methodology of problem-solving employed, as I hope my peers, naturally, question their own assumptions that could potentially be detrimental, even if, at heart, driven by an environmental cause.

When I say assumptions I, of course, mean a whole broad range of social interactions we take for granted, which is why I found the piece on bottled water so interesting. It is no secret that bottled water has become an issue that has plagued our landfills, shorelines, and even the biological makeup of the public now, but the solutions just one company attempts to advance on the public is an entirely sensible and already functioning model else wise in the world: recycled sewage water. While some of my peers felt this section to be silly in with an association to Jack Black, this association, however, I found fairly inspiring. As we look towards educating people in the future we cannot use brutal honesty; the environmental issue has progressed into such a depressing state that some intermediary needs to manage this interaction. Utilizing the principles of marketing, and questioning how we can make something reputable, how we can eliminate stigma, how do we face the consumer, and, simply, how can we sell as many of these bottles as possible, remains a vital tool to us as content creators and environmental missionaries.

Ultimately, I walk away from this film not pointing my finger at some target from an hour and a half of the blame game on the big screen, but with gained knowledge and facts of valuable information to draw my own relative conclusions. The plethora of reliable and noteworthy faces attempting to reduce this disaster over the past couple decades point towards a drive to correct the issue, rather than find a culprit. I would argue that, in large, much of the environmental movement could benefit from this approach, and should be adopted as we look towards making a mass movement.

Manufactured Landscapes Response

Personally, I found this film refreshing from most documentaries; the use of a more artistic approach, rather than the more journalistic approach that seems to drown the documentary genre, I felt more engaged with the material of the film as not just a member of the audience but also as a critique of the film and photography, but perhaps this engagement might merely be the result of my background in art history. The artistic approach is also, however, what I believe to be the film’s greatest weakness; I am unsure how accessible the film can be when a base knowledge of fine arts remains necessary for full and proper engagement, and, while the images themselves hold a strong visual impact and the filming retains a certain honesty and candidness, one wonders how the lack of such would alter interpretation. Regardless, the film serves as a strong retrospective on the industrial complex of the world that simplifies, yet not overly, the nature-technology contrast by suggesting, as shown by the title, that we have opted for the replacement of nature with the manufactured world.

I have a strong appreciation for both Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal for their artistic prowess. Burtynsky’s use of repetition and the vanishing point work tremendously to, in tandem, deliver powerful imagery that replicates and instills the notion of infinity through the overexposure of the horizon; it’s easy to think of the industrial complex as massive and huge, perhaps even infinite, but to visually capture the idea with real-world material generates a more shocking and disorienting retrospect on the industrial. Baichwal’s cinematography achieves a similar effect; also utilizing repetition, shots such as the nine minute tracking opening control tempo and address our assumptions of the scale we consider the industry. Juxtaposed with the social actors’ interviews which regard things such as the Three Gorges Dam as merely work, Baichwal’s cinematography highlights the sort of pervasive attitude that led us here: a certain numbness and disconnection between our own actions and the environment.

Other than the aesthetical details of the film, I enjoyed the way the documentary was structured. The attitude that Burtynsky takes towards the environment, that it simply encompasses our lives as humanity on earth, becomes accentuated by the structure of film, dissecting the industrial complex into three relationships with nature, humanity, and culture. Even during processes like recycling, the amount of environmental damage is alarming, such as the tainting of water by the toxins released through the heating of recycled motherboards. The effects on humanity, and not simply the fact that immense water supplies have become, to a certain degree, unusable resulting in the importation of bottled water, but also jobs that endanger the lives of others: the workers at the shipwrecking yards was the most alarming moment of the whole film to me. That the life expectancy of the worker rarely exceeded thirty proved reminiscent of slave statistics in Brazil during Portuguese occupancy. Lastly, cultural endangerment was an aspect of this issue I haven’t even considered; in fact, it appears odd to me that we would throw away the past in search of progress. I think the last section forces us to consider what life would be without culture, and would that even be a life that we would want; more often than not, I think we would conclude no.

Environmental Video Games

I found an infographic that brought up a point of console gaming I had yet to acknowledge; I always knew the manufacturing costs were detrimental, but I never considered being a PC gamer an environmental decision that used digital storage as opposed to hard copies.

environment-video-games

As we look towards educating the future generations we will need to continually increase the methods by which we educate. Video games can, in large, be a big part of the solution here. This is a segment from energyNOW! with Lee Patrick Sullivan that offers some interesting insight:

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