There are plenty of documentaries that seek to inspire change in the world. "Virunga," "Racing Extinction" and "Blackfish" are all perfect examples. And then there are those films that take another approach, urging viewers to seek change within and to ponder the deeper questions associated with life and nature. The new film "Planetary" falls squarely in the latter camp, a moving and beautiful documentary that doesn't ask us to save the world as much as reconsider our place in it.
The film by director Guy Reid is a follow-up to his award-winning short film "Overview," which featured astronauts' impressions of Earth as seen from space. "Planetary" begins in much the same way, with views of our home planet as seen by the Apollo missions, and then cleverly explains how what we saw then is no longer what we see today.
"We look at those first images that came back from space, and it's important for us to understand that those are as out-of-date as my high school yearbook picture is," says environmentalist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben. "You look at the summer Arctic and there's 40 percent less ice on it; you look at those vast oceans and they're 30 percent more acid than they were 40 years ago. It's hard for us to take in both the kind of beauty and majesty and to understand the vulnerability and fragility of those systems."
Insights from environmentalists, theologians, scientists, researchers, and meditation teachers are sprinkled throughout "Planetary," with commentaries from cosmologist Brian Swimme, philosopher David Loy, National Geographic Explorer Elizabeth Lindsey, NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mae Jemison, and Lakota leader Tiokasin Ghosthorse to name a few. These interviews are all beautifully complemented by imagery captured from all around (and above) the world over the course of two years. Tying it all together is the meditative original score from Human Suits, which features mesmerizing analog synths, classical instruments and human voices. There will be moments in "Planetary" that make you pause both for the shared wisdom and arresting views of our incredible but increasingly abused planet.
The other aspect of the film that I enjoyed was its message of how modern humans have sought to separate themselves from nature. Drew Dellinger, an internationally known speaker, poet and writer sums up the concept perfectly saying: "Every other culture in the history of the planet has told stories that they were embedded in nature, that they were connected to nature, that nature was their mother, was their father, was the source of their existence. We're told stories that we're separate from nature, that we're superior to nature, that we walk around on top of nature.
"When we look at our politics, when we look at our economics, we see that they're based on the separation between humans and the Earth," he adds. "And I think that sense of alienation has led us today to desecrate the Earth."
Singapore's solar-powered 'supertrees.' (Photo: 'Planetary')
"Planetary" is full of marvelous, thought-provoking insights like this. It skips the heart-racing thrills we've seen some from other documentaries over the last year and instead calms the mind, giving us a chance to ponder our relationship to the Earth and our future role in its story. Whether we choose to be "of the Earth" or "on the Earth," as one commentator states, will make all the difference in how that relationship plays out.
Check out an exclusive clip from "Planetary" below. You can view the entire film, available on-demand through Vimeo, starting on April 22. For a list of theater showings, visit the official site here.