(Release Info London schedule, June 25th, 2020, Curzon Home Cinema)
"Anthropocene: The Human Epoch"
A cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet, "Anthropocene" is a four years in the making feature documentary film from Jennifer Baichwal. Third in a trilogy that includes "Manufactured Landscapes" (2006) and "Watermark" (2013), the film follows the research of an international body of scientists, 'The Anthropocene Working Group' who, after nearly 10 years of research, are arguing that the evidence shows 'The Holocene Epoch' gave way to 'The Anthropocene Epoch' in the mid-twentieth century, as a result of profound and lasting human changes to 'The Earth'. From concrete seawalls in China that now cover 60% of the mainland coast, to the biggest terrestrial machines ever built in Germany, to psychedelic potash mines in Russia’s 'Ural Mountains', to metal festivals in the closed city of Norilsk, to the devastated 'Great Barrier Reef' in Australia and surreal lithium evaporation ponds in 'The Atacama Desert', the filmmaker has traversed the globe using high-end production values and state of the art camera techniques to document the evidence and experience of human planetary domination. At the intersection of art and science, "Anthropocene" witnesses, in an experiential and non-didactic sense, a critical moment in geological history; bringing a provocative and unforgettable experience of our species breadth and impact.
'Anthropocene' is our current geological epoch, proposed by members of 'The Anthropocene Working Group' and beginning mid-twentieth century, in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change. 'The Anthropocene' is a term widely used to denote the proposed current geological epoch, in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change. The research charts the progression of human influence on 'The Earth’s' system through a variety of markers: the terraforming of land for agriculture, industrialization and urbanization; the extraction of resources and the phenomenon of anthroturbation; sediment displacement, the proliferation of dams and groundwater depletion; the technosphere, consisting of all human-systems and technologies, which now weighs upwards of 30 trillion tons; and human-influenced peak levels of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. At time of writing, 'The Anthropocene' is not a formally defined geological unit within 'The Geological Time Scale'; it must be formally debated and ratified or rejected by 'The International Commission On Stratigraphy', a process that can take decades. Our current period of geological time is widely accepted to be 'The Holocene Epoch', which began some 12,000 years ago as the glaciers of the last ice age receded.
We've reached an unprecedented moment in planetary history. Humans now affect 'The Earth' and it's processes more than all other natural forces combined. 'The Anthropocene Project' investigates human influence on the state and future of 'The Earth'. 'The Holocene Epoch' started 11,700 years ago as 'The Glaciers' of the last 'Ice Age' receded. We've left 'The Holocene' and entered a new epoch; 'The Anthropocene'. Humans have become the single most defining force on the planet and that the evidence for this is overwhelming. Terraforming of 'The Earth' through mining, urbanization, industrialization and agriculture; the proliferation of dams and diverting of waterways; 'CO2' and acidification of oceans due to climate change; the pervasive presence around the globe of plastics and other technofossils; unprecedented rates of deforestation and extinction; these human incursions are so massive in scope that they've already entered, and will endure in, geological time. Embracing and developing innovative techniques, the film embarks on an epic journey around the world to every continent save 'Antarctica', to capture the most spectacular evidence of human influence, while taking time to reflect on the deeper meaning of what these profound transformations signify. The result is a collection of experiences that will immerse viewers in the new world of 'The Anthropocene Epoch', delivering a sense of scale, gravity, and impact that both encompasses and moves beyond the scope of conventional screens and prints.
It feels like the films keep getting bigger in scope. This is because the urgency around problems we face at a global level demands it. But big picture subjects falls apart without an appropriate balance of scale and detail. Sometimes you need to go up in the sky to convey place, but if you stay up there all the time, you float away from what is meaningful. Humans are not meant to remain at an omniscient level, though we like to contemplate from there and technology allows us to do so. The film tries to intelligently translate one medium into another; which meant in most instances trying to convey scale in time. Hence the eight minute long, single take opening sequence. The vast Eupa factory floor would not have meant as much without the glances up from workers as the dolly passed them, or the person sleeping at his post after everyone left for lunch; the massive resettling of people and cities for 'The Three Gorges Dam' would not have resonated without the woman sewing at the construction site. The biggest lesson is illumination through juxtaposition.
The film did not have a lot of information about context; if you needed more than a few words to describe where you're, it isn't going to work. Instead the film puts one place against another to sharpen the focus of both; 'The Buriganga River' next to a pristine 'Lake Ealue' in 'British Columbia'; people taking a sacred bath in 'The Ganges' at 'The Kumbh Mela' next to girls cartwheeling on the beach in California. But here again it's the combination of big picture and particular focus that brought an experiential understanding of context. It's the testimony of Inocencia Gonzales from 'The Cucupá Nation', whose fishing community is decimated as a result of the dry delta, that makes viewers understand that place. "Anthropocene" steps one place back from the other two films in it's premise; that humans change 'The Earth' and it's systems more than all natural processes combined. The film required a global perspective to drive home the fact that we humans, who've really only been up and running in modern civilization for about 10 thousand years, now completely dominate a planet that has been around for 4.5 billion.
How do you convey that domination? Here again it's tempting to stay in the realm of the big; the omniscient. The aerial perspective, through helicopter and cineflix or drones, is woven all through the film, and sometimes the only way you experience a place; the phosphate mines in Florida, for example, or the oil refineries in Houston, Texas. But when everything is big or far away and diagrammatic, scale becomes incomprehensible. A timelapse of one small piece of bleaching coral tells the story of anthropogenic ocean acidification, and the tusks of seven thousand elephants, each one carefully weighed and recorded, becomes the way we understand human-directed extinction. The balance of scale and detail is also where we've learned from each other over 13 years of collaboration. This film certainly deploys the big picture, and endeavors sometimes to convey a place in one wide frame. But the film also seeks moments of intimacy, the detail needed to reveal, understand or encourage empathy within context. This is where the ethics of engagement are critical, and go further to say that ethics are the most important dimension of our filmmaking practice. When you go all over the world for your project, it's crucial to try and do so with humility, and an openness to what the context wants to tell you about itself, especially its overlooked margins or ignored corners.
The post-1950 period of accelerated industrial development, extraction of natural resources, population growth and globalization, bringing unprecedented increases in forms of human-caused pollution. The measurement of time as it relates to geological phenomena, encompassing the entirety of Earth’s history since it's formation. Our current geologic epoch, which extends to approximately 11.7 thousands years before the twenty-first century, and is the second of two current 'Quaternary Epochs'. A dynamic marriage of lens-based media and cutting-edge technology, "Anthropocene" combines documentary storytelling with responsive gigapixel essays, 360° film, and '3D' modelling to fully immerse audiences in these photographic worlds, revealing what they signify for both the history and future of human civilization, and it's accumulated effect on the planet.
The film allows audiences to journey to some of the most imposing, stunning, and remote locations in the world; places they will learn they're connected to, or often accountable for, but would never normally experience. These hot spots encourages exploration of the entire image, give context connecting the photo to the tenets of 'The Anthropocene', and offer gratifying scavenger hunt moments of discovery. Designed to open up a unique and complementary exploration of locations, ideas, and themes, '360°' video and cinematic 'VR' bring the borderless frame to cinema, offering viewers a completely different relationship to the photographic image, where the spatial relationships between objects and people in the images remain intact. The aim is to create experiences that literally take viewers into the realities of 'The Anthropocene'; hard-to-reach, out-of-bounds locations that few people ever get to visit in their lifetime.