It’s one thing to hear about climate change, but so much more to experience it firsthand. Filmmakers Danfung Dennis and Eric Strauss break that boundary between seeing and experiencing with a four-part virtual reality documentary series, collectively called This Is Climate Change that brings you so close you can almost smell the corroding environment.
Melting Ice sets the stage with former Vice President Al Gore returning to Greenland to check on the rapidly diminishing glaciers. Unlike 2006’s lecture-turned-documentary An Inconvenient Truth, we don’t merely hear him talk about it, we witness it in real time. What once were fields of ice are now seas of water dotted by icebergs, but now you’re not taking anyone’s word for it, you’re standing on a floating iceberg wondering how much longer the ground will stay frozen or you’re watching a glacier erode by the second. Of course, it’s nothing to worry about because Fox News says there was an Ice Age in the 1800s. Right.
Fire brings us to California’s wildfires. Once considered a “season,” it’s now a constant battle to protect the homes and livelihoods of anyone unfortunate enough to live in the path of a raging inferno. We ride in a helicopter with firefighters who have personally witnessed the uptake of devastation over the past few years. They fight the flames with water, a scarce resource in the drought-ridden state. When they’re unsuccessful, people lose everything they ever had. Sadly, this has become the accepted norm, just like earthquakes and smog.
“…Vice President Al Gore…we don’t merely hear him talk about it, we witness it…”
We head to the Amazon Rainforest for Feast. Described as the “lungs of the earth,” its massive expanse of plant life is essential for keeping our air breathable. Of course, other interests take precedence as illegal logging rapidly tears down nature’s Emerald City to make way for cattle pastures and slaughterhouses. Opening shots of the Amazon River recall Cannibal Holocaust’s lavish cinematography, leading to an ending just as brutal when the cows, who were just sniffing you out of curiosity, are led straight to their deaths to feed the world’s insatiable appetite. We’ll be choking on carbon dioxide with burgers on the grill.
Finally, Famine moves halfway across the world to Somalia’s abject poverty. To put it bluntly, homeless people in America live like royalty in comparison. Once the fertile ground has turned useless, leaving the people to struggle in communities of homemade sheds while their children slowly die of malnutrition. Non-profit medical centers do their best to keep the young alive, but their resources are limited. With no room in the cities and no transportation to speak of, the people are stranded at the cruel end of Sam Kinison’s famous joke. The Road Warrior isn’t just a movie anymore.
Through these four episodes, devastation, destruction, and desperation become three-dimensional. You can’t look away because it’s right there, no matter which direction you turn. The only missing element is a tactile sensation, e.g., the heat from the fire, the spray of water as chunks of ice fall into the water as icebergs erode, the breath of cattle, but that can’t be too far off in the future. The Feelies of Brave New World is right around the corner.
“…the broader question of the sociability of VR entertainment…
There’s also the broader question of the sociability of VR entertainment. Since their inception, movies have been a social activity, so what happens when we all don goggles and headphones to retreat into our own private experience? In a 3D movie, you can still turn around and see the crowd’s reactions, hear their cheers and gasps and join in the fun. Is this another just another step toward the isolation of humanity?
Regardless, Melting Ice, Fire, Feast, and Famine are essential viewing for everyone concerned with anything other than themselves. Sure, maybe it’s fake news, but to paraphrase Stephen Merchant when he appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, what if it isn’t? Will we sit back and let our world collapse because some billionaire has a vested interest somewhere else? Hopefully, these films will inspire a few of us to get involved. We may not be able to change people’s minds, but we can make choices by ourselves that will benefit everyone in the long run.
This Is Climate Change Directed by Danfung Dennis and Eric Strauss. Starring Al Gore. Fire and Feast made their US premiere at Tribeca Film Festival.
5 out of 5 stars