Award-winning documentary filmmaker Robert Stone (Radio Bikini, American Babylon, Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Oswald’s Ghost) takes a contemplative look at the birth of the modern environmental movement here in America with his optimistic, easy-to-watch new eco-doc Earth Days.
It is slightly humbling to see the overwhelming success of 1970’s inaugural Earth Day or to realize the impact the very first full photograph of Earth taken from space had on mankind. It’s also slightly puzzling to look back on a time when mankind suddenly “got it” and realized that filling rivers with deadly pollutants wasn’t a good idea. Given the current GOP-supported backlash against global warming, it kinda makes you wonder how we lost our way again.
Earth Days is fairly honest about the shortcomings of the environmental movement. Scenes of idealistic hippie communes are dismissed as noble but doomed experiments from the get-go. Early head-to-head frustration pitting hardworking loggers against the Sierra Club points up the continuing need to find mutual goals—as opposed to the now de rigueur, FOX News-approved partisanship on every issue. Despite a couple of self-deprecating admissions, the film’s writer/
At times, Earth Days does have a slightly self-congratulatory tone, as if rewarding Baby Boomers for all their good work with another handful of sixtysomething saints to fawn over. Then again, it’s hard to argue with some of the results. Ultimately, Earth Days is a gentle, stirring call to arms. Uninterested in doom and gloom and repetitions of impending eco-collapse, the film chooses to concentrate on the personalities behind the environmental movement and the feelings that brought each of them to the forefront of this lifelong (and continuing) quest.
The film wraps up its story circa 1980 with the election of President Ronald Reagan—which might seem a chapter or two short. Sure, there are good reasons to brand Reagan as the ultimate environmental enemy, undoing 20 years’ worth of Earth-saving legislation with a few waggles of his pen and sculpting the model for future Republican contentiousness. (Does the refrain “Drill, baby, drill” sound familiar?) Still, a bit of follow-through might have been nice. Obviously, Earth Day persists, we’re still dealing with many of these problems and there is likely an environmental activist or two under the age of 60 out there somewhere. Sure, it’s valuable to look back on history, but occasionally history needs to knock off with tooting its own horn and start telling us what to do.
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