Deep Green: Reviews from the Illahee Crowd

This past June about 350 Illahee folks skipped the first warm evening of Portland’s belated “summer,” and while the rest of the city was out biking, frolicking, and blinking at the sun, checked out a special screening of fellow Illahee attendee, Matt Briggs’ hopeful new documentary, Deep Green.  Below are a half-dozen reviews from the crowd, emboldened by Matt’s encouragement to provide feedback, as the film is, in his words, still a work in progress.

***

Deep Green director/writer/narrator, Matt Briggs

Written, produced and directed by Matt Briggs, Deep Green is a beautiful and compelling film. Briggs is a good storyteller and personal narrator of his own search for solutions. He comes across as sincere, authentic, open-minded, curious, and good-hearted.

I saw Deep Green on the big screen and again at home. I enjoyed it more upon that second private viewing. It is very nicely produced, with compelling visuals, music, narration, with that personal story of searching for solutions.

It seems there are at least two films here. Leaving aside its somewhat longer than necessary length and some redundancies of content and exposition, there is the educational/avocational film and there is the more mainstream public television style documentary, more of a journalistic product, if you will. I am not sure which way Matt wants to take it–in style, tone and approach. I am thinking that it might be best for him to re-purpose his footage and produce two different films.

There is also a problem with the sound mix, with the music too loud and intrusive at times. But no doubt Matt already knows that and has received that feedback.

So, lets address the content. Despite its length problems, there are some significant areas that are not touched on. Matt ignores the terrible environmental legacy in China and the fact that he seems to buy into the Chinese propaganda machine lock, stock and barrel. (Realizing of course that Matt wants to focus on positive stories, on solutions.)

What about government policy making in the West? The place for regulation, taxation, pricing carbon, with U.S. and European examples. He does begin to get into some interesting material in the case of Marburg, where clearly all the citizens were not in favor of a new tax in support of the environment (if I understood it correctly) and he touches briefly on Copenhagen. Both of those segments needed better context. Why didn’t he interview Bill McKibben about 350.org, just to take one example? What about mass democratic movements for social change? Matt deftly points out what one person, one consumer, one homeowner can do, with his sterling personal example (but my goodness, what kind of investment did that all take…and what kind of public incentives are–and should be available –to adopt those changes?) Then he seems to leap to massive infrastructure and technological developments with the greatest examples being in China, with its unique government regime and cultural traditions that support that kind of massive technological shift (again, avoiding discussion of China’s still ongoing bad habits–massive river re-alignments and mega dams, huge reliance on coal fired energy sources, tremendous air and water pollution, etc.)

If we want to become a sustainable society, here in the U.S., if we want to successfully address climate change and reduce our footprints and carbon inputs into the atmosphere and oceans, there is a lot of middle ground, in terms of public policy, in terms of social change, that the producer doesn’t address. He makes it seem too easy….just a matter of retrofitting your house, changing your personal lifestyle (made much easier if you have a ton of money to throw at the problem), and thinking that massive private and public investments in green buildings, and wind and solar power will solve all our problems.

Even with all my criticisms, as someone who knows something about some of these issues and who has gone on my own somewhat similar search…and as a part-time semi-professional filmmaker, I really liked it. I only offer this as constructive feedback and hope it will taken as such.

***

Deep Green is a high-quality, compelling documentary, but it still needs some editing and tightening, and re-arrangement, (you could cut the sequences where Matt appears and sums up something that was just summed up by another speaker).  Film makers are always advised to cut it down, cut it down, cut it down. I know this has to be very hard, but this one really has a lot of repetition. It could easily lose fifteen minutes.

Now my next comment may seem to contradict the preceding paragraph (hey it is easier to be an art critic than an artist), but this film seems to try to say it is global in scope, that it is about how we all must work together to solve our problems, about individual responsibility (I did find the architect tearing up moving) how we are all interconnected and in the same boat and will go over the falls together etc.   But then there is NO mention of Africa, no mention of Latin America.  If one is worried about sustainability, about saving the planet, how can you not explicitly mention Africa?

Also, while I like that Matt uses himself to illustrate individual responsibility, he uses himself too much at times. For example, he could lose the community swimming pool example and plug Mercy Corps NW microfinance project instead.  Also, it is hard to miss the irony of Matt flying everywhere to make this movie over a two to three-year period and the comments about the carbon footprint of flying. Some self-deprecating remark about how you’ve got to spew CO2 to reduce CO2 might be appropriate here.

***

The film seems to glorify China and it doesn’t feel like a very accurate picture from what else I have read and heard.  I like that it shows the cultural differences in China versus the US and how some of the culture stays the same but is just focused on a new cause, but Matt is showing only the good things and not the enormous challenges of China or the reality of what most of China is really like.

***

Obviously sound track is a work in progress… but on content, great…. and perhaps shorten it up a bit, 15 mins.  I was feeling antsy to get out. Don’t remember what he said about reducing food waste or about getting organics out of landfill into composting. Loved the parts on China. Wanted to go home and hunt down the phantom appliances!

***

I liked “Deep Green”. It covers a lot of ground…. Perhaps too much at times. That said, it makes some interesting points that are not always part of the common dialogue. It is good to know how aggressively China is going after energy efficiency. That might get the competitive conservatives going. I like the emphasis on “what I can do”. I don’t remember that well, but it might be good to have a recap, and review how much the author reduced his carbon footprint. All in all, I liked the movie.

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