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The 11th Hour

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The 11th Hour

Leonardo DiCaprio in The 11th Hour

(Warner Independent)
It's unavoidable that the even-handed but alarming eco-documentary The 11th Hour will be compared to the Al Gore Oscar-winning global warming shocker An Inconvenient Truth, but climate change is only one of the topics the film addresses. In fact, The 11th Hour has much more in common with Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, the narration-free film that combines stunning cinematography and Philip Glass to paint a picture of "life out of balance," the translation of its Hopi title.
"Life out of balance" would have made a good subtitle for the first feature-length documentary by sisters Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners. With the help of producer and narrator Leonardo DiCaprio, they restate the point Koyaanisqatsi makes wordlessly -- only in much more urgent terms and with the science to back it up. Among recent documentaries questioning the status quo (The Corporation, When the Levees Broke, Why We Fight, An Inconvenient Truth, Sicko), The 11th Hour takes the most far-reaching point of view and connects issues into larger patterns, culminating in a truly global call for change.

It's no secret that the planet is not in good shape. There is widespread scientific agreement that every single bio system on earth is in decline. We're becoming sickeningly familiar with the litany of impending ecological doom: poisoned oceans, polluted air, retreating forests, depleted soil, dying coral reefs, mass extinction of species, and so forth. Too bad for the environment, eh?

Leonardo DiCaprio in The 11th Hour

(Warner Independent)
Well, no. The 11th Hour is quick to assure us that the planet will be just fine. Instead, it's ourselves we should be concerned about. The natural resources that have been fueling our species' explosive population growth for the past two hundred years are finite, and once they run out or become too contaminated, we will pay the price. Perched precariously on top of the food chain, humanity appears hell-bent on committing suicide.

How on earth did we get here? The 11th Hour takes us through a quick remedial history of humankind, from the birth of life through our evolutionary history to the current moment, when our impact on the ecosystem is threatening our own survival. While Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros plays mournful melodies, The 11th Hour parades shots of natural beauty and horrible abuses before us. Leo DiCaprio admirably lends his star power to the project, but ultimately the wide-ranging collection of thinkers, scientists, environmentalists, and Native-American faith keepers are the more winning and charismatic presences. Wangari Maathai, Ray Anderson, Thom Harmann, Stephen Hawking, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Bill McKibben are among those who attempt to explain the cultural conditions that produced this global ecological crisis: our consumerism, our mistaken emphasis on economic growth over quality of life, our growing disconnect with the sources of our food and most other things in our lives.

The 11th Hour devotes a good third of its running time to sketching possible ways out of the dilemma. As one commentator notes, technology or public opinion is not the problem: this is a crisis of leadership. Beholden to the gigantic fossil fuel industry that's causing many of the problems, politicians and corporations who stand to benefit from the status quo are blocking change. But to hear environmentalists and designers describe the sweeping changes they believe will enable us to save ourselves is a lesson in optimism. Nobody dwells on how depressing the situation has become. Instead, there's a spirit of excitement at the opportunity to rethink our entire civilization with sustainable systems designed according to natural principles. A point that's made with some force is that the transition to a greener world could come very quickly once a tipping point in awareness and political will is reached.
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