DOXA 2012: A Fierce Green Fire surveys five decades of green pioneers and eco-warriors
A Fierce Green Fire (USA)
Along with feminism and civil rights, environmentalism is right up there in the pantheon of momentous social movements of the past century, so it is fitting that its pioneers and warriors would get their due in a sweeping documentary-film tribute.
Mark Kitchell’s A Fierce Green Fire is no Eyes on the Prize, however, although its somewhat constraining two-hour format is partly responsible for that status.
Because it is based on Philip Shabecoff’s relatively exhaustive 1993 book of the same name, expectations might be set a tad high, and Kitchell can’t really be blamed for picking and choosing when it came time to focus on which aspects of environmentalism’s history he deemed most worthy of extended screen time.
The Sierra Club, Silent Spring, Love Canal, Chico Mendes, and the regressive, clownish tag team of Ronald Reagan and James Watt were ecology-movement milestones, to be sure, both good and bad. But to pay short shrift to the motivating power of the most notorious nuclear mishaps in human history (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima) seems a mite careless, to say the least.
Fierce Green Fire—the title is from turn-of-the century U.S. wildlife-management visionary Aldo Leopold, who used the words to describe what he saw during a transformative moment when he looked into the eyes of a dying mother wolf he had just gunned down—does cover almost five decades of eco-consciousness–raising in an entertaining and illuminating manner, though.
It is expertly edited and features an effective mix of archival footage, stills, and primary-source interviews (alas, many of those go-to greens—John Muir, David Brower, Rachel Carson, Bob Hunter—are no longer passengers on this Spaceship Earth). But the doc’s five-act structure (conservation, pollution, alternatives, going global, and the political climate) serves notice from the get-go that its eyes are bigger than its 120-minute stomach.
The nuclear gloss-over is the most obvious symptom, and the section on Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd and the International Whaling Commission’s famous 1986 “moratorium” would have less knowledgeable viewers thinking that Japanese and other whalers weren’t still butchering thousands of whales (half of them pregnant) under bogus “research” permits. (Watson, though, makes no bones of his disdain for what he considers to be Greenpeace’s wimp-out noninterference tactics.)
And other than blowing the soundtrack budget on licensing rights for the too-obvious Joni Mitchell track “Big Yellow Taxi”, I can’t think of any reason for such an anonymous, watered-down, and ultimately annoying soundtrack.
That said, this is still a film worth seeing, especially for younger viewers (keeping in mind there is some disturbing footage of whale-butchering). The old saw about being doomed to repeat history if its lessons aren’t learned seems to be coming true with today’s softening of environmental laws and conservative (and religious) blowback from warnings of global climate change. Five decades’ worth of struggles appear to be on the brink of being at least partially unravelled under the stewardship—in Canada, at least—of a reptile-eyed political opportunist who revels in portraying environmentally conscious citizens as “extremists”.
Shades of Ronnie Raygun.
Watch the trailer for A Fierce Green Fire.