‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch’
Playing in the Spotlight section of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 87 minutes; in English, and Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and German with subtitles. Next screenings: Monday, Jan. 28, 9:15 p.m., Salt Lake City Library Theatre; Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2:30 p.m., Egyptian Theatre, Park City; Saturday, Feb. 3, Redstone Cinema 7, Park City.
The luminous, terrifying and beautiful documentary “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” feels like the culmination of the life’s work of its three directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas de Pencier — because it chronicles what could be the end of human life on Earth.
Actually, it’s scientists — members of the Anthropocene Working Group — that are doing the chronicling. They gather evidence to make the convincing argument that Earth has left the holocene, the fifth epoch of existence, and are entering the sixth, the anthropocene — so named because human activity is changing the planet faster than nature can adjust.
As they did in Baichwal’s landmark documentary “Manufactured Landscapes” (SFF ’07) the filmmaking trio find gorgeous images within the massive industrial work that is reshaping our planet. From potash mines in the Urals of Russia to lithium evaporation ponds in Chile’s Atacama Desert, from massive earthmovers in Germany to a city-sized garbage dump in Kenya, the crew finds striking visuals depicting the rapid reshaping of our planet, described by a spare, urgent narration by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander.
There are images of despair, like the “functionally extinct” northern white rhino (the last male of the species died last year), or the rising water in Venice. But there also are images of hope, like the sight of Kenyan game wardens destroying poached elephant tusks, or the Hong Kong carvers who have replaced elephant ivory with mammoth tusks harvested from the Siberian permafrost.
Like most movies about the environment, “Anthropocene” struggles to find a balance between sugarcoating the Earth’s dire predicament and bumming out the audience. The visual splendor, and the message that humans can fix this if they act quickly, will inspire awe, optimism and fear in equal measure.