|by Tench Phillips (writing in VEER April, 2015)
I find it somewhat revealing how media and business attach the label “environmentalist” to describe anyone who resists the corporate exploitation and degradation of nature, as if a concern for the planet goes counter to reasonable social norms. This kind of subtle marginalization of the green movement has over the years created a narrative that has polarized Americans – those who oppose economic growth at the expense of the biosphere on one side, and on the other side are those more practical, business-minded, job-creating, God-loving traditionalists.
And yet even big business loves the annual celebration of Earth Day. The event has been mostly co-opted by commerce and civic groups for the purpose of greenwashing their logos. Music and performance help create a good time for all. And it does in the end serve some useful purpose – the kids who attend are directed to pick up street litter and recycle trash.
But it didn’t start out that way. The first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970 was a revolutionary event. It has been widely credited with the launching of the modern environmental movement and the subsequent passage of such landmark laws as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. What’s surprising is that all this enlightened legislation was initiated and passed during the Nixon administration. It shows just how much our nation’s politics have lurched to the right.
This year The Naro will be jumping into the fray to commemorate the 45th Earth Day. We will be hosting along with numerous other independent theaters the global theatrical premiere of a stunningly beautiful new film dedicated to “worldview interruption” – the act of seeing the world in a radically different way.
Underlying the message of the film is the Gaia hypothesis – the theory developed by James Lovelock that life itself transformed our planet and its atmosphere into the conditions favorable for the evolution of complex lifeforms. Named for the ancient Greek goddess of the earth, Lovelock provided some of the first warnings that industrial society had so critically thwarted Gaia’s self-regulating and co-evolutionary processes, that it was now imperative for us to recognize our interdependence in the whole of the biosphere. The theory has provided science a framework for complex modeling such as predicting climate change. Gaia has also become a potent metaphor, a myth, and continues to grow as a movement.
The filmmakers of Planetary have developed their narrative structure by adapting The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism which is itself based on an ancient Indian system of ayurvedic medicine: the disease, the diagnosis, the cure, and the treatment.
The disease: The health of the planet is fast deteriorating. Our institutions and their leaders have failed us and are effectively taking the world off a cliff. The church and state, along with academia and business perpetuate long-held myths of militarism, corporatism, and man’s dominion over nature. Corporate media dispenses disinformation and political theater, spinning the same old retro stories of scarcity, fear, and the necessity for greater economic growth. Meanwhile the reality of ecological devastation and mass species extinction are both trivialized and denied. Philosopher David Loy states in the film, “We have not only an ecological crisis… but also a kind of story crisis. That is to say there’s something very wrong about the way that we understand who we are, and our relationship with the Earth.” He is among the many clear voices explaining the precarious condition of our biosphere. Others include leading climate change activist Bill McKibben and anthropologist Wade Davis.
The diagnosis: What is the fundamental root cause of the crisis? We hear from Zen Buddhist priests Joan Halifax and Alan Thubten along with Tibetan lama Anam Thubte and the Head of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu school, the 17th Karmapa. They speak about the Western cultural misperception of the self and its perceived separation from nature, from the planet, and from others. Their ancient practices are used to reveal the illusory nature of the false self and our true interconnectiveness with all beings.
The cure: Viewing the earth from a distance erases all borders and encourages us to see the planet as a single, living organism. We hear from NASA astronauts and their life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from outer space. This perspective-altering experience has been described as the “Overview Effect”. Common features of the experience are feelings of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for the biosphere. Cosmologist Brian Swimme adds his unique evolutionary view to the discussion. And we hear from the mindfulness community– the teachers who explore the practical ways to experience and embody these realizations in our personal lives.
The treatment: The development of a planetary citizen movement that encompasses not only protest and civil disobedience, but longer-range strategies that implement radical political and economic change. This has become possible through the network of the world wide web. This “global brain” can also reconnect us with the earth through the teachings of ancient wisdom traditions. Indigenous voices in the movie include Hopi elder Mona Polacca, Lakota Sioux elder Tiokasin Ghosthorse, and African Dagara leader Sobonfu.
Following the showing of Planetary at The Naro, a discussion will be facilitated by the Virginia Chapter of The Sierra Club along with Catherine Kilduff, a staff lawyer with The Center for Biological Diversity, and Tom Ellis, a liberal arts professor and Gaian teacher. Tom is always a favorite with audiences at The Naro, and he will share his studies of Gaia theory and his vision for “the spontaneous remission of the cancer of the Earth.” Planetary shows Wed, April 22. http://weareplanetary.com
More Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
In the upcoming month our “New Non-Fiction Film” series will feature other stories and investigations that will continue the conversation initiated with the showing of Planetary. A film receiving much press is Merchants of Doubt. It examines the methods used by the industrial-media complex in the manufacturing of propaganda used to misinform and confuse the public.
THE HUNTING GROUND From the filmmakers of the game changing film about sexual assault in the military, The Invisible War, comes a startling expose of rape crimes on US campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll that they take on students and their families. Weaving together first person testimonies, the film follows the lives of several undergraduate assault survivors from UVA and other prestigious universities as they attempt to pursue – despite incredible push back, harassment and traumatic aftermath – both their education and societal justice. Shows Wed, April 15.
AN HONEST LIAR ‘The Amazing’ Randi has been for years a world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception. The film brings to life Randi’s intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists. A master deceiver who came out of the closet at the age of 81, Randi created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos. But when a shocking revelation in Randi’s personal life is discovered, it isn’t clear whether Randi is still the deceiver – or the deceived. Shows Wed, April 29.
MERCHANTS OF DOUBT Inspired by the acclaimed book, Merchants of Doubt takes audiences on a satirical and illuminating journey into the dark heart of the American propaganda machine. Documentarian Robert Kenner (Food Inc) lifts the curtain on a secretive group of charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire who are used by corporate media as scientific authorities. But their real purpose is to spread maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change. Presented with Sierra Club of Virginia and CCAN. Shows Wed, May 6.
SALT OF THE EARTH Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity for over forty years. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet's beauty. Sebastião Salgado's life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his later travels, and by German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire). Shows Wed, May 13.
THE WRECKING CREW Behind headliners like Frank Sinatra, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Mamas and Poppas, and The Monkees – the unheralded musicians of The Wrecking Crew created the beats and melodies of the great pop hits of the ’60s. Directed by the son of legendary Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, this vibrant, moving portrait pays tribute to the golden age of the “West Coast Sound” and its secret star-making machine. Date to be announced.
BALLET 422 New York City Ballet, under the artistic direction of Peter Martins, boasts a roster of more than 90 elite dancers and a repertory of works by many of the greatest choreographers in the history of the art form. When 25-year-old NYCB dancer Justin Peck begins to emerge as a promising young choreographer, he is commissioned to create a new ballet for the Company’s 2013 Winter Season. With unprecedented access to an elite world, the film follows Peck as he collaborates with musicians, lighting designers, costume designers and his fellow dancers to create Paz de la Jolla, NYCB’s 422nd new ballet. Date to be announced.