Screening HOME in Colombo: Can this film trigger planet saving action?

I just took part in a public screening of HOME, the 2009 documentary that offers a new view of our planet — from slightly above.

French photographer, journalist and activist Yann Arthus-Bertrand and his team travelled around the planet over 18 months to make this film. They filmed interesting natural and human-made locations in 50 countries — all from the air. This offers a different perspective to our growing impact on the planet’s natural processes and balances.

Technically outstanding and aesthetically enjoyable as it is, does HOME overstate the case for planet-saving action? Or does it gloss over deep-rooted causes of today’s ecological crisis? These and other questions were raised and discussed at our screening.

HOME the movie screening in Colombo, 13 March 2014
HOME the movie screening in Colombo, 13 March 2014

I was encouraged by over 60 people turning up – a mix of students, professionals, retirees and others – and staying transfixed for the two full hours – plus another 45 mins of Q&A. This is just a summary of wide ranging discussion moderated by filmmaker and film buff Sudath Mahadivulwewa.

We discussed both style and substance. I personally dislike the patronising narration by actress Glenn Close – who reminds me of an all-knowing old matron. But a few felt that this theme demanded just such a voice and delivery.

We agreed that HOME isn’t a typical natural history or environmental documentary. Its scope is vast (story of our planet and human civilisation), its vantage viewpoint extraordinary.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Yann Arthus-Bertrand, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

With all its stunning views and haunting music, HOME projects a strong message of anthropocentrism – that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet (at least in terms of impact). This is now a dominant view among scientists who study the planet (hence the new name for our times, Anthropocene).

I sometimes wonder – as did some in my audience – whether we take too much credit for our signature on the planet. We sure are the most damaging species, but I worry about environmentalism turning into a religion-like dogma. I have always stayed clear of ‘Mother Earth’ kind of romanticising – we don’t need to turn the planet into a gigantic matriarchy to be motivated to care for it!

Besides, some geological processes — such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis — are not triggered by human action. When I hear die-hard greens trying to link these phenomena to humanity (never mind the absence of any evidence), I consider it environmental advocacy going crazy.

I also drew my audience’s attention to Alan Weisman’s 2007 best-seller The World Without Us, which offers an original approach to questions of humanity’s impact on the planet: he envisions our Earth, but without us. We may be a formidable presence right now, but if we disappear, the planet would slowly but surely reassert itself…

See also my June 2013 Ravaya column (in Sinhala): සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #120: මිහිතල මෑණියෝ ද? මිහිතල අම්මණ්ඩි ද?

Is HOME political enough? Some argued the film left too much for individual thought and action when, in fact, much of today’s resource crises and environmental problems stem from structural anomalies and deeply political disparities in the world. Is this an attempt to absolve the governments and corporations of responsibility and heap it all on individuals?

Opinion was divided, but it got us talking – and thinking. I don’t know Yann Arthus-Bertrand, but perhaps he kept the message at personal level so his film can be non-threatening and benignly subversive? There are times when harsh delivery can alienate part of the intended audience.

All considered, an evening well spent. As I’d tweeted in advance, we had a slightly out of this world experience with Arthur-Bertrand as our guide – and no reality altering substances. Indeed, the stark reality facing humanity can be very sobering…

HOME: How aerial filming was done


Watch the entire film (120 mins) on YouTube:

Anthropocene film opens Rio+20 Summit, reminds who’s culpable…

A scene from The Anthropocene film

In March, I wrote about the high impactful short film called Welcome to the Anthropocene that launched the Planet Under Pressure conference, London 26-29 March 2012.

It is a three-minute blast through the last few centuries of Earth’s history, starting in 1750 and finishing at the Rio+20 Summit. It graphically depicts how one species has transformed Earth and shows why many scientists now say we have entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene.

Produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and partners, it opened the United Nations Rio+20 summit today in Rio de Janeiro.

Welcome to the Anthropocene from WelcomeAnthropocene on Vimeo.

This information is found in a media notice released by IGBP today:

The data visualization, which is already an online viral hit with over 700,000 views, demonstrates that while we have had a dramatic impact on Earth for many thousands of years, it has only been since the 1950s we have grown into a colossal global force.

“The Anthropocene changes our relationship with the planet. We have a new responsibility and we need to determine how to meet that responsibility,” says co-director of the film, Owen Gaffney, director of communications at the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), based in Stockholm.

“The Rio+20 summit is the largest UN event ever held and the first major international gathering on global sustainability since the concept of the Anthropocene was first popularised,” added Mr Gaffney.

The film opens at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. As the camera swoops over Earth, viewers watch the planetary impact of humanity: cities, roads, railways, pipelines, cables and shipping lanes until finally the world’s planes spin a fine web around the planet. The film is produced as part of the world’s first educational portal on the Anthropocene.

The film was co-directed by Canadian data visualization expert and anthropologist Felix Pharand-Deschenes from the education organization GLOBAIA.

Pharand-Deschenes said: “Data visualization is a powerful tool to help us view the world and our place in it and to help foster the global awareness needed to support global sustainability and governance. Science can make use of these tools to help bring research to more people.”

The film was commissioned for a major international science conference, Planet Under Pressure, held in March 2012. The conference was designed to provide scientific leadership in support of the Rio+20 summit.

Conference co-chair Dr Mark Stafford Smith from CSIRO in Australia, said: “The film picks up the main theme of the Planet Under Pressure conference: the risks we face are global, urgent and interconnected. Our search for solutions must take this into account.”

The film was produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia. It is part of the website, which is co-sponsored by IGBP; Globaia, CSIRO, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm Environment Institute, International Human Dimensions Programme.

Welcome to the Anthropocene: How the Earth Lit Up

Some geologists now believe that human activity has so irrevocably altered our planet that we have entered a new geological age.

A decade ago the Nobel Laureate Dutch chemist, Paul J Crutzen, coined a new term for it: the Anthropocene.

The proposed new epoch was discussed at a major conference held at the Geological Society in London in the summer of 2011.

A new short video explaining it in simple terms was released this week in connection with the Planet Under Pressure conference, London 26-29 March 2012.

Welcome to the Anthropocene from WelcomeAnthropocene on Vimeo.

As they say, it offers a “3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit”.

The film charts the growth of humanity into a global force on an equivalent scale to major geological processes.

The film is part of the world’s first educational webportal on the Anthropocene, commissioned by the Planet Under Pressure conference, and developed and sponsored by

I’m not at the conference, but following it on SciDev.Net’s blog.

Welcome to the Anthropocene, by Mićo Tatalović, Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net