In his compelling, unsettling and visually stunning documentary, The Human Element, National Geographic photographer James Balog shows viewers why we, as a society, can no longer turn a blind eye to the drastically changing world around us. After watching how our planet is essentially crumbling before our eyes, his closing words are crystal clear:
“Today, truth and evidence matter more than ever. The visual evidence shows that people are changing the other elements fast. …Our deeds are leaving their imprint in the fabric of time. …It’s up to us to make the right choices.”
“This collection of powerful images provide concrete and compelling proof.”
This past year has set records with the increasing number of devastating natural disasters that have ravaged our nation. Roaring wildfires incinerate the West Coast, while the Eastern gulfs slowly succumb to rising sea levels. We see jarring images on the news, showing how families desperately flea from their homes. Unyielding fires and floods are becoming the new normal. We rally for charitable donations and offer support in times of crisis, but then life goes on for the majority of the population and we forget. Until it happens again.
Balog brilliantly captures how the elements erode the Earth over days, months, and years. The documentary begins with time lapse cameras that he set-up in 2005 as part of the Extreme Ice Survey. His footage documented how ice retreated over time. Billions of tons of glaciers melt away into the ocean, causing sea levels to rise. Ultimately, increased sea levels start consuming our land.
They used to say California would be swallowed up by the sea, but it’s the East Coast that we really need to be worried about. We see how small islands and communities in the United States, like Tangier Island and Chesapeake Bay, are at risk of sinking into the ocean. The government needs to decide which populations and locations can be protected from further destruction and which areas need to be abandoned. Even the Naval station in Norfolk is threatened by the rising tides. Those who serve in the area believe that “climate change is a national security challenge.” That just covers the impact water has. Wait until you see how the other elements are rattling families and communities to their core.
“…an enlightening film that should be seen by those who are still in denial of climate change.”
The documentary’s narrative is a tapestry of the elements. As the story, images and footage unfolds, we see how all the elements are connected. This collection of powerful images provide concrete and compelling proof. Each explored element – water, air, fire, and earth – is accompanied by a moving human interest story that tugs at your heartstrings. We see how lives are dictated by the toxic and dangerous environments different families live in. We even discover how Balog’s family has been directly impacted by the elements when he takes us to the coal mine where his grandfather worked.
The Human Element is an enlightening film that should be seen by those who are still in denial of climate change. Balog has captured irrefutable proof that our world is changing and we need to start changing with it. Wherever you live, there is a story in here that will hit home for you. Some may find this documentary inspiring and will spring into action, others may be frightened to their core by the brutal reality. Either way, it is a message worth seeing and listening to. Humans have manipulated water, air, fire and earth over the centuries. This film shows us that we are the only ones who can find a way to change it for the better now.
The Human Element (2018) Directed by Matthew Testa. Starrring James Balog. The Human Element screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
5 out of 5