23 May 2012

Surviving Progress Film Review

Written by Published in Film

When the Neanderthals figured out how to kill two mammoths instead of one, you could call that progress. When they learnt how to chase whole herds off a cliff, killing 200 at a time and driving them to extinction, that's something else entirely. And it's this "something else" which is explored in the film, Surviving Progress, which premiered in the UK at London's Tricycle Theatre last week

Surviving ProgressDirected by Mathieu Roy, it's partly telling us what we already know – that consumption at the current rate is unsustainable - but they way it's delivered means it has serious impact.

Based on author Ronald Wright's best-seller, A Short History Of Progress, the film looks at how civilizations are repeatedly destroyed by 'progress traps' – technology that serves immediate needs, but jeopardises the future. 'We are running 21st century software, our knowledge, on hardware that hasn't been upgraded for 50,000 years,' Wright says in the film. 'And this lies at the core of many of our problems.'

The cinematography is slick, as are the graphics. No surprise, given that one of the executive producers is Martin Scorsese. An aspect which no doubt helped the film's well deserved success.

This, combined with some extremely knowledgeable and eloquent speakers, makes for a very thought provoking 86 minutes. Amongst the more high profile, we hear from Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking and Margaret Atwood. But it's the lesser known 'grassroots' voices we hear from which have the most impact. Raquel Taitson-Queiroz is an environmental police officer who makes her way through the Amazon rainforest on the look out for illegal loggers. Despite being passionate about her work, it's clear that her optimism is waning, giving an idea of how difficult enforcement is, even when the legal framework is in place: 'I thought that I could defend my ideas, my ideals,' she says. 'What I can do is so small compared to what is going on right now.'


Michael Hudson, an economic historian and former Wall Street economist, gives a fiery account of what he experienced in the financial world and how this is 'threatening to bring in the Dark Ages again.' Hearing from the people who have seen first hand the reality of our destructive path hits home far more than those coming at it from a more theoretical angle.

The way the film encompasses evolutionary, psychological, economic and environmental viewpoints also adds credibility to the overall argument that we, essentially, simply must consume less in order to survive.

The UK premiere of Surviving Progress was part of DOCHOUSE Thursdays, screening international documentary films in venues across London.

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