Before I get to the environmental movement that A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet captures, I want to go back to Mark Kitchell’s previous documentary Berkeley in the Sixties, which depicted the several student movements in the titular city. I didn’t mention this in the review but after I pressed publish a scene came to mind. It’s one where those students were yelling Sieg Heil to obviously mock to police. But a group of mostly white adults yelling Sieg Heil is not a good look nowadays. I bring this up because of this newer film that Kitchell made for TV. It has a G rating despite some bloody scenes. Anyway, it brings up the contradictions, the failures, and successes of the environmental movement. People expect all three in a movement that spans a whole century.
Green Fire makes a plausible claim that the first environmental movements came from preserving sections of the American West from corporations who want to build dams. The film has its moments that perpetuate the contradicting stereotypes about the movement. For example, the use of Joni Mitchell in the soundtrack. But subverts those elements by showing things like the moon landing. It obviously points at the irony that the space race was more important to America. More important than preserving the sovereign lands it stole. The film, eventually, moves away from the American West. Green Fire, then, covers other movements taking place all over that country. One movement takes place in New York State.
There in the 1970s, housewives and children of all races banded together. And they successfully petitioned to evacuate their town away from a toxic dump. There are parts of the film that makes it feel like its comprehensiveness falls short. Interview subjects like author Bill McKibben talk about America falling short on environmental industries because of Reagan. I love Reagan bashing, a ritual that social media recycles every so often. However, those scenes still make the film feel like most of it is American-centric. It would be nice to learn about the movement as one that the whole world participates it. The film also brings up how problematic Greenpeace is. Despite bringing some intersectionality to the movement, it had a breakaway member who participated in acts of terror.
Green Fire, admittedly, doesn’t bring up how Greenpeace’s good intentions have prioritized animals and hurt Indigenous populations in the process. The film has its blind spots. But thankfully, it is not as boring as some critics write it off as when it initially came out. It finally opens up its scope to, for example, depict the battle to stop the deforestation in the Amazon. An eclectic group of celebrities like Isabelle Allende, Van Jones, and Meryl Streep narrate its five sections. It’s interesting to listen to the narrator now as she’s also in another environmental film this year. Anyway, the film stops at the Obama administration’s shortcomings during the Copenhagen climate summit. But that event, like most setbacks, give the film the energy that the movement needs.
A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet comes to OVID on December 14.