When filmmaker Robert Stone (Oswald’s Ghost) was in 7th grade, he made a Super-8 film about pollution for a class project coinciding with the very first Earth Day in 1970. Some 40 years later, he returns to the subject of the environment armed with considerably more filmmaking skill. The result is Earth Days, an engaging look at the people and events behind the rise of the environmental movement and a clear-eyed survey of that movement’s successes and failures. It offers a roadmap of the movement’s past and it puts up a few signposts pointing to possible futures. More than anything, it’s a reminder of the power of ordinary people to effect great change when they’re motivated and united.
Through archival footage and extensive interviews with some of the movement’s key figures including Kennedy/Johnson Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, original Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, The Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich, futurist and Whole Earth Catalog editor Stewart Brand, and California pro-environment Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, Earth Days avoids a polemic on the need for environmental activism and instead takes that need for granted.
Rather than twist people’s arms, this film is aimed at the vast middle where people accept the need for environmental protection but don’t actually do anything about it. It’s a stirring reminder of how much progress we’ve made since that first Earth Day in 1970, but also a warning about how we take political action for granted and how easy it is to fall back if we don’t keep applying pressure.
Far from being preachy however, Earth Days is actually entertaining. It’s smoothly mounted as you’d expect from the producers of PBS’ American Experience, it features a wealth of period footage (including the below PSA I remember so well from my childhood), and it’s all held together by another beautiful score from the increasingly ubiquitous Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille).
Watch the trailer below or check it out at Apple.
Earth Days was the closing night film at Sundance 2009. It opens theatrically in New York on August 14th and Los Angeles on August 21st. I’m not sure if it will play in other cities in the mean time, but it will debut on PBS in April 2010 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day. It probably isn’t going to change anyone’s mind, but Earth Days is entertaining and inspiring and I recommend you keep an eye out for it.
If you’re above a certain age, you probably remember this PSA for Keep America Beautiful with “Iron Eyes” Cody (who was actually Italian). It’s kitschy today (I love the part where they dump the fast food at his feet), but I took it seriously when I was a kid. Along with Woodsy the Owl’s “Give a hoot! Don’t Pollute!” campaign, it probably did as much as anything to make an entire generation environmentally aware.