Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Category: Film Responses (page 1 of 5)

Cowspiracy Response

This is an interesting look at the effect of animal agriculture on the environment and its massive impact on how we live. Cowspiracy followed Kip Andersun as he investigates the lack of discussion around animal agriculture as a detrimental cause of climate change. He tries to interview many people from major environmental groups such as Greenpeace, but many downplay the topic or in the case of Greenpeace, refuse to talk to him at all. He learns that the amount of costs and land it takes to run the current industrial livestock model will not sustain itself and there will not be enough room for cattle farming in the future. The amount of food that goes towards feeding livestock also contributes to the starvation of so many people across the globe. Throughout the film, as he learns that even grass fed beef and so called “sustainable” farming practices are not really sustainable, he embarks on a decision to become vegan.

It was really intriguing to see so many of the main environmental organizations not considering animal agriculture as a big contributor to climate change. The documentary seemed to show that irresponsible corporations and their donations could control even these groups. There were a few problems I had with this film however. The director of the film becomes very involved in the narrative in the film, and while that has worked for films like Gasland, in this film it comes across as a tad self-involved. There are multiple shots of just him contemplating in front of a beautiful natural background. I want to see more about the issue and less about how this director feels. I also don’t feel very connected to him as an individual because him even sharing his personal story felt artificial. The film also ignores the classism surrounding vegan discourse, and especially the ability to become vegan. One of the people interviewed in the film even said that cutting out meat comes at no cost, but that is not true. For people from low-income backgrounds who do not have access to fresh food, it is very difficult to maintain a vegan lifestyle, especially if they’re just trying to find just a bit of food to feed their children.

The style of the documentary was interesting. It was mostly intense depth of field interviews with typical wide shots in documentary style. The editing sometimes felt a bit bumpy in order to create a feeling that the people being interviewed were guilty in their secrecy towards the issue. There would be a cut in the interview that would cut quickly to black at an awkward moment in the interview when the interviewee would become flummoxed. This was an interesting tool but it could also come off as bit unprofessional at certain times, as if the editor accidentally left space in between shots.

Overall this was really a great introspective look at the animal agriculture industry and how much it is destroying the planet. I wish it took more consideration into the cost of veganism for the average person, especially people below the poverty line. I also feel like if it focused more on the issues and less on the filmmaker, I would appreciate it more. However, this brings up a really important issue that should be addressed within the environmental community.

An Inconvenient Truth: Film Review

An Inconvenient Truth is a 2006 documentary directed by David Guggenheim and written by former United States’ Vice President Al Gore, with Gore also starring in the film. The film was produced under Lawrence Bender Productions and Participant Productions, and was distributed by Paramount Classics. Operating in the expository mode of documentary, An Inconvenient Truth follows Gore’s campaign to raise awareness on global warming through a complex, comprehensive slideshow. The film is an observational, expository, and reflexive in that it depicts Al Gore narrating and teaching viewers about information observed by the government and world.

The film had several strengths and quite a few weaknesses. The structure was somewhat difficult to follow, jumping from chronological order of the earth’s atmosphere and the climate of the government in regard to environmental issues, to personal accounts of Gore’s life. Although this structure weakened the cohesiveness of the film, the emotion that the “tangent’s” brought were powerful and served to propel the film’s conviction forward. Other strengths of the film included Gore’s charisma and public speaking prowess, the funny animations, and the music. Although many have criticized the use of a feature-length power point, its rigidity slightly compensated the loose structure. The use of found footage was very effective in that it showed the timelessness of the planet’s issues. As opposed to The Story of Stuff — a short documentary on consumerism and the environment — An Inconvenient Truth does not focus on why the environment is the way it is, but rather focuses on the fact that the environment is the way it is and how we as human beings can fix it. It is clear that Gore initially was introduced to environmentalism by Professor Roger Revelle at Harvard University, in that all the sources and people interviewed for the film were highly credible and experts in their given fields.

I felt that An Inconvenient Truth was a great documentary that was engaging and extremely educational. I think it is the perfect first film for beginning environmentalists. The structure was sometimes confusing but always brought power and emotion with it. I was too young to know Gore back was he was running for president or in office, so this film really gave me a chance to get to know him better and come to respect him.

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.

Cowspiracy Review


Released in 2014, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a documentary that sheds light on the world’s main cause of climate change: livestock farming. The film was written and directed by Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen as well as produced by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The film follows Kip Andersen, an environmentalist who was confused why big groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club weren’t talking more about agriculture farming and its effects on the environment. He goes on to explore the climate change that it has caused and found that over half of the world’s pollution comes from livestock farming. The film is largely statistical and many infographics are used to show things like water consumption, meat consumption, etc.

Because the film consisted of many statistics, I found that there was much strength to this approach to filmmaking. Andersen spoke with almost all sides of the environmental problem. In the beginning he tried to speak with the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. He spoke with environmental experts at different universities and those who have done educational studies. He juxtaposed these interviews by spending time at the sustainable farm. In almost all of the interviews the audience was given new information in order to help put together what seemed like one big puzzle.

Regarding the cinematography, there were moments where shots were too overexposed and it became distracting. The amount of rack focuses used was also excessive and I felt that this film was too far away from an art film for it to focus so much on cinematography as it seemed to do at some points. Another small weakness was the focus on Kip Andersen. Although the film is focusing on his journey, I felt that there were many interviews where Kip didn’t need to be seen. I thought the film was particularly strong in its resources for alternative food consumption. The film provided numerous solutions with its outcomes for the audience. In fact, I felt as though unlike some films we’ve watched in the past classes, this film’s purpose was for the audience to make a change. Andersen and his experts provide numerous benefits of eating a meat free diet including reducing your carbon footprint by over fifty percent.

As a vegan of two years and a vegetarian for 8, I have spent a good amount of time educating myself on this particular subject. After watching the film, I felt even more concerned about meat production than I did before (if that’s even possible). There were numerous facts that I had never heard and I sat through the film appalled at most of them. I think the film overall did a good job of relaying this information and giving the audience a solid foundation in which they can make a decision about eating meat. I found it interesting that this film didn’t talk much about the slaughter of animals. I originally thought that was what the film was about. I feel like its difficult to talk about slaughterhouses without talking about what they do to animals, but this documentary stayed on focus with the environment. I think its good they chose to focus on one subject because tackling both issues in one documentary would have been too much. Overall, I found the documentary to be insightful and motivating.


Taylor Graham & Taming the Teesta Visit Reflection

I found the speaker today fairly inspiring. I found his work to be remarkable, especially considering that he was still in school. He’s an example of how much of a resource Ithaca College can be if someone puts forth the effort.  To have a piece of work out there that already has recognition before even graduating is a big deal.  I found that his determination to finish his project and to show the truth behind his topic was outstanding. Ithaca College can only do so much with students that don’t apply themselves but when students take advantage of their programs, and teachings, beautiful work can come out of it. As for the documentary itself, I thought the cinematography was great and it made me want to use my own DSLR more.  DSLR’s have more power than they’re given credit and they’re a lot cheaper than studio cameras.  I also thought that he had a lot of courage to film where he wasn’t supposed to, which means he really was passionate about portraying as much of the truth as possible. Although personally I don’t see how I can do anything to fix the dams, I think his approach was successful because it got recognized by people that are higher up and that can potentially do something to help.


To see Taylor Graham’s Documentary please visit here: https://vimeo.com/128624202

Gasland Film Response

Film Response

By Matt Allchin

Gasland, directed by Josh Fox, is a 2010 documentary that focuses on communities in the United States affected by natural gas drilling otherwise known as hydrofracking. The film follows Josh Fox as he travels to many different homes that have been negatively affected by the drilling around them because of their faucets lighting on fire or because of the illnesses they have caught from their contaminated water.

One of the biggest strengths of this film is Josh Fox. The film is directed and basically stars him and because of this he brings a lot of personality to the film. From the banjo playing to the conversations with the locals you can really see how passionate about the subject he is. He also supplies some comedic relief to the film, which makes it more entertaining. The film even starts out with him reading a letter from a natural gas company looking to lease his home in Pennsylvania so that they can drill in that area. This just enforces how important this issue is to him and why he is doing this. This is worth mentioning because we can clearly see the intent of the filmmaker and what he is trying to say with this movie, which is that hydrofracking, has negative impacts to the environment and the communities around the drilling sites.

The way the documentary ss shot and edited was interesting. The film feels independent because it seems like Josh is doing everything such as the scene where he is trying to call various natural gas companies himself and how his interviews are less formal and more of a conversation with the locals. Most of the shots are handheld and are filmed in close quarters during the interviews. Some parts even look surreal like the signature shot of Josh playing his banjo while wearing the gas mask. Overall, the documentary felt personal which seems like that what Josh was going for since this was an issue that was about to impact his own home.

A downfall of the film is that it mostly just provides the perspective of gas drilling effects on the local level. Even though there was a scene where he tried to get interviews with high ups in the natural gas corporations, the fact that there weren’t many of them hindered the movie. This is an important perspective especially because many of the corporations have come out against the film and have stated some inaccuracies. Whether they are right or not is up in the air since these aren’t the most honest people but it does make the lack of perspectives more of an issue.

On top of the lack of perspectives, Gasland doesn’t go into the impacts of hydrofracking on a global scale. Instead all of the interviews and scenes were spent looking at the impacts on a micro scale. Looking at the global level could have helped enforce the idea that the negative effects of natural gas drilling outweigh the benefits. Not only that, but not a single solution to this issue was brought up throughout the movie. Because of this the film feels very depressing and often leaves the viewer feeling hopeless. I understand that this film is meant to turn heads and shine some light on hydrofracking but providing solutions would have been a good addition for the people who are not as informed on the issue.

The overall message of Gasland was clear and well received. Even though it is not a perfect film, it was able to draw attention this controversial issue in our society and did its job of educating people about the horrible impacts happening to people around drilling. It has definitely riled up a lot of people against hydrofracking and has even been compared to Silent Spring by Rachel Carson as far as exposing problems in a common process in our society

Cowspiracy: A Response

The 2014 documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, Kip Anderson, an avid environmentalist, embarks on a mission to uncover the secret to truly sustainable living, in the process discovering the one thing no environmental organizations want to talk about, agro-industry. Making up about 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, cattle raising and the meat industry account for more carbon emissions than any other industry, but still most organizations refuse to address the issue, making it seem as though there is some sort of conspiracy in which everyone simply agreed to turn their heads to the growing issue of environmental sustainability when it relates to the agriculture industry. Because of the content of the documentary, the film’s original financial backer pulled out, leaving Anderson to crowfund the work. Despite its “controversial” nature, Anderson managed to surpass his fundraising expectations and deliver a poignant performative documentary condemning America’s unsustainable practices, specifically in relation to the agro-industry.

Early on in the film, Kip establishes himself as a strong environmentalist and a fan of Al Gore. His personal interest in the topic of environmental sustainability establishes his credibility and right to make the film. With Anderson as the center point of the film, it is easy for the audience to establish and emotional connection with a human entity. It is also an important persuasive element in the documentary and, in a sense, peer pressure. Because Kip Anderson is experiencing a transformation in thinking, the audience feels pressured to do so as well. As Anderson makes a resolution to become vegan, it persuades the audience to look into veganism as well.

The interviews with different organizations are one of the most affective elements of the work. Kip Anderson attempts to get interviews with as many major environmental organization as he can as well as pro-agriculture industry lobbyists. The interviews themselves as well as Kip’s inability to secure interviews with organizations such as Green Peace are interesting and surprising in that not a single organizations or spokesperson “felt comfortable” answering questions on the agro-industry, as if it was a secret, as if the human need for a cheeseburger is more important than the planet’s need to survive. Some people even went so far as to claim that a change in attitude towards consumerism in the agriculture industry was impossible for the American people despite the fact that the documentary is a testament of the opposite. While it’s impossible for a documentary to be completely objective, Kip does present as many viewpoints as he can while still persuading the audience against meat and of the importance of sustainability.

On a personal level, I was very moved by Cowspiracy. I had been considering vegetarianism for many years, but after watching the documentary finally decided to make the switch over with long term plans to become vegan. It’s difficult to watch that film and continue to consuming meat. It isn’t something I can do in good conscience any longer, not when it takes millions of gallons of water to produce one cheeseburger. The depletion of our natural resources is not worth that small amount of meat.

An impactful moment in the film was the slaughtering of the ducks in the man’s backyard as well as the scenes with the kids, saying that they can’t become too attached to the pigs. Not only was it difficult to watch a living creature get its head chopped off, but it was difficult to hear the children that couldn’t form an emotional connection with the very loving pigs that they raised. As a pet owner and someone that loves animals, it seems natural to form connections with animals and nearly impossible to avoid it. As someone who recently lost a pet, I couldn’t imagine watching animals die over and over again for the sake of a few bites of meat.

Eating meat is not sustainable, not with the amount of resources the cattle and livestock consume, not with the unsustainability of grass-fed cattle. There seems to be nothing at all sustainable about the industry, something to which even the farmers own. If it does anything, Cowspiracy makes it clear that humans must change their way of life. Humans must become sustainable. Humans must consider giving up meat and becoming vegan or risk losing our planet forever.

Last Call at the Oasis Film Response

Film Response

By Matt Allchin

Last Call at the Oasis, directed by Jessica Yu and produced by Participant Media, is a 2011 documentary about the water crises that is going to be a huge problem in the years to come. The film touches upon many different water problems we are facing such as the decreasing water level by the Hoover Dam, the huge drought in California, and the contamination of many American’s water supply. The main point of the film was to inform and alarm the people who are not aware of this problem because it is coming sooner than many think.

The movie does a great job exploring the many different issues and spends a decent amount of time on each one. Each issue had a pretty simple yet in depth explanation making it accessible to the general audience who may not be knowledgeable on the subject. Each issue was definitely worth mentioning and did a successful job at scaring the audience into realizing we need to stop taking water for granted.

Erin Brockovich was a main character and she brought a lot of personality to the documentary. After seeing the Hollywood movie made about her, I strongly connected with her from the get-go and was more inclined to care about the issues she was covering. There is a part towards the middle in the movie where she is telling the people at a town meeting that they’re water is contaminated and that there is basically nothing they can do to make the government solve it. I felt this was the one of the strongest parts of the film because you witness these people realize how they are poisoning themselves and there is little they can do to stop it.

Throughout most of the film many problems were covered that involved a lot of the uses of water. Towards the end of the film solutions were brought up to help solve the water crises such as recycling our wastewater. I thought when the science behind this plan was explained it was an intriguing concept that we will have to implement in our society in the near future. However, the film then showed the company trying to market the water and use the actor Jack Black as their spokesperson in a humorous way. I thought this was a low part in the documentary because the film goes from talking about the impending doom of our water supply to watching Jack Black make a commercial about toilet water. The marketing team of the recycled water was going about it the right wrong way because people who were asked to try the water on the street treated it more as a dare instead of something we will have to adapt to in the near future. However, I did like how this scene showed how ignorant the public is to the water crises with one woman saying, “If we need to recycle sewage water that must mean we’re in some sort of shortage that I’m not aware of.” This is just an example of how unaware the public is and how little media covers this crisis.

A solution that I am glad the film touched on was turning salt water into drinkable water because this was a solution that I had in mind going in to this movie. However, this is shot down due to the fact of how expensive it would be to do it also produces a huge quantity of green house gases. A solution that I’m surprised was not touched upon and was talked about in class was harvesting rainwater for daily use. This could be a solution any citizen could do at his or her own home and be implemented into future housing developments. It was odd to me that this was not talked about in the film.

Overall, I thought the message of the film was portrayed well. A lot of issues that will become big problems in the future were brought up and made the audience aware of them. It seemed that the main theme of this film was urgency because of we do need to start acting now. This was represented well by scaring the audience by showing what is to come in the next couple of years if we don’t start doing something.

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