Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Category: Deforestation

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?

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.

Restoring Forests in Africa

In a time where environmental destruction seems to be all we can talk about, its always hopeful to see some good news. Out of the Paris climate conference there is a plan to restore 386,000 acres of forest in Africa.

According to the article, “The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) has secured commitments from six nations to restore 78.3 million acres and has pending promises from four more countries. The program has been officially adopted by the African Union, and international partners have pledged more than $1.5 billion in various forms of financial support.”

While some people are worried this program will focus too much on restoration and not preventing deforestation, it seems to be  a step in the right direction.

What do you think about Africa’s plan to restore the forests?

Check out the full article here.


Animals That Have Already Gone Extinct


Over the last 500 years roughly 1,000 animals have gone extinct and that number is rapidly increasing. Scientists are saying that the rapid increase is due to climate change, loss of habitat, and  the introduction of non-native species. Here are some infographics that give statistics on extinction. For more pictures and the original article click here



Matt Allchin

If A Tree Falls (2011)


If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is an awarding winning documentary that was directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman.  This documentary follows the story of Daniel McGowan, a man who got arrested because he helped commit arson with the extremist environmental group ELF (Earth Liberation Front).  At one point ELF was considered America’s number one terrorist group, as said by the FBI, due to the group’s violent nature and numerous arsons against certain businesses.  The film focuses on Daniel’s reasoning for his actions and his time awaiting his final sentence. Daniel is followed throughout the documentary and he explains why ELF felt the need to take extreme measures. This particular documentary is associated with many production companies such as British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Independent Television Service (ITVS), Lucky Hat Entertainment, Marshall Curry Productions LLC and P.O.V./American Documentary.  If A Tree Falls was first released January 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States.  Since then it has been nominated for ten awards, of which the documentary has won six out of those ten nominations.


Official trailer for If A Tree Falls (2011): https://youtu.be/WRwN-crcQrI




“Company Credits.” IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.


If A Tree Falls. Dir. Marshall Curry. Oscilloscope Laboratories, 2011. Film.


“If a Tree Falls.” If a Tree Falls. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.



If A Tree Falls

If A Tree Falls is a documentary written by Marshall Curry and Matthew Hamachek, and directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman. It was released on June 22nd, 2011 in the USA and won an Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Feature as well as a Documentary Editing Award from Sundance Film Festival. This film was produced by British Broadcasting Corporation. This film tells the story of Daniel McGowan and his involvement with the ELF, or Earth Liberation Front. In December 2005, Daniel McGowan was arrested, then placed on house arrest as he awaited his trial. This film shows the rise and fall of the ELF through archival footage and interviews with various ELF members, family members, government officials and property owners. The ELF was an environmental activism group that set fire and destroyed many different properties such as a lumber company and facilities at the University of Washington. While no one was killed or injured during these actions, millions of dollars of property were destroyed. The members of the ELF were extremely good at what they did, and the group was not caught and served until years after their crimes. A theme of the film is how do people define terrorism, and how far is too far when it comes to activism and saving the environment. The film ends with McGowan agreed to be cooperative with the FBI, lessening his sentence from a lifetime in jail to 7 years. I believe this film is a participatory documentary because of its use of archival footage and its more relaxed interviews.
The thesis of this film is the question of terrorism and how does one define it. The film was very intriguing as it was told like a crime story versus a traditional documentary. I think this worked for the film because of the large scale crimes it was discussing, and the fact that the filming took place will McGowan was awaiting his sentence. One of the films biggest strengths is its use of archival footage. This gave the film a very real feeling. Also, interviews with members of the ELF recounting events were interesting, and it was probably hard to track down members who would talk to a camera about their crimes. Another strength of the film was getting perspectives from both sides. This film could have been biased if it had just gotten interviews from property owners, or government officials, or ELF members, but it included all three which gave the film an unbiased feel. A weakness of the film was including the black, drawn reenactments. I think it was just too much, and took away from the authentic feel of the film.
I thought this film was extremely interesting as it was as much about morals, and definitions of terrorism and environmentalism as it was about the specific ELF crimes. The debate on how far is too far when dealing with something you are passionate is an interesting one. The ELF members truly believed that they were saving the environment, and in some ways, they were. However, they caused a large amount of damage and destruction to innocent people, which is not okay, and at times made mistakes as to where they were setting fires. While peaceful protests and letters take longer to elicit change, I still believe this is the correct way to go. I think the ELF got out of control and caused more harm than good.

Manufactured Landscapes Film Response

The documentary film Manufactured Landscapes by Jennifer Baichwal highlights the expansion of human technology and the industry with the effects it has on the natural world. The film was released in 2006 by Zeitgeist Films. It does so by following the photographer Edward Burtynsky and documenting his work. There are many shots of Burtynsky taking the actual photographs, complimented by the actual still photographs captured on Super-16mm film. His photos are of landscapes that have been drastically changed due to human waste and advancements, such as garbage dumps, old ship yards, and factories. The film is very observational because the subject is the landscapes but also Burtynsky. While people are asked to be moved and such throughout the film, it is Burtynsky who asks, and Baichwal merely captures the result on camera. It also has tones of an expository documentary, but it has limited voice- over, trying to show the audience rather than tell. It also leaves a very vague intention and feeling of what to do next.

The film is structured around the journey of Burtynsky through China to various locations, where he is shown taking photographs. The film often transitions by showing a photo and zooming out to illustrate the scale of the prints. It also enables the viewer to see how Burtynsky saw his subject and how the photo turned out. His photos are usually quite detailed and do show how the world has become very industrialized. The biggest strength of the film is the long opening shot of the factory workers. The slow, tracking shot amazes the viewer with the

length of the factory. Except for this shot though, there weren’t any other shots that stood out. It was an average documentary in terms of how it was filmed. Due to less than interesting film techniques, it seemed to drag on much longer than the runtime of 1:30 would usually seem. Other weaknesses include the fact that it is barely informative; I could’ve learned more from reading a few articles and looking at photos or videos than watching this film. It seemed more of an advertisement for Burtynsky than anything else. When discussing Damnation, people thought that it was very sponsored and had shots that were there for advertising. The difference is that I think Damnation presented a problem and conveyed information, as well as how we can correct the mistakes. Manufactured Landscapes just showed a photographer taking photos about a problem many people already know about. It also didn’t even give advice on how to stop polluting the earth.

I personally believe that this film was the weakest one we have viewed so far, even more so than An Inconvenient Truth. I was against that film because it was essentially all data, however, Manufactured Landscapes did nothing for me. As I said before it seemed like a 1:30 advertisement for Burtynsky because it only showed these landscapes, and not the solution or steps we can take for improvement. It is opened ended, which can lead to discussion and more involvement by just showing the problem, but I thought it was a pointless film that didn’t even inform me of the ever growing manufactured landscapes.

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