It makes sense that our snowballing environmental crisis is reflected in a growing number of fine documentaries on the subject, although anyone reading today (October 8) about the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change might be left wondering who’ll be left to watch this extensively detailed chronicle of a civilization reaching its Fermi Paradox moment.
Still, pessimism aside, there are still a couple of excellent titles left to catch as the Vancouver International Film Festival enters the last half of its 2018 edition—and it’s not all doom and gloom. If you can forgive its moments of corny reconstruction, The Serengeti Rules (screening at International Village today and Wednesday [October 10]) explicitly wants to remind us that nature can repair itself, once we grasp its most basic principles.
One of five scientists profiled in the film, Bob Paine was curious about what would happen if he removed starfish from Pacific Northwest tide pools, and his beautifully simple experiment—he literally just chucked them from the water—led to our understanding of keystone species and the fragile but crucial interconnectedness of things.
It’s an idea we take for granted now, but when it's actually implemented, as in the ecosystem of the title, the trophic downgrading of planet Earth is reversed. Frail and almost ghostly, Paine speaks to us from his deathbed (he died in 2016), but this is a man who witnessed miracles, and who still takes an urgent joy in teaching us.
In contrast, The Devil We Know will make your blood boil. And your blood, as it happens, almost certainly contains a few molecules of C-8, one of the “persistent” compounds found in Teflon and all of its related products (like Scotchgard.)
Stephanie Soechtig’s doc begins by introducing us to Bucky Bailey, born in the ‘60s with severe deformities to a DuPont employee in Parkersburg, West Virginia. From there, a tale of staggering corporate criminality unfolds, with continuing repercussions for the entire planet.
DuPont was found to have “acted with malice” in a successful class action lawsuit brought against the company in 2005—and it’s certainly satisfying on some level to see corporate lawyers, executives, and paid-off scientists squirming under questioning like pinned bugs.
But the deeper takeaway here is the exposing of a self-sustaining corporate-government-media partnership that isn’t going away anytime soon. The Environmental Protection Agency did the bidding of DuPont while, at the very least, six water districts (and at most, all of us) were directly exposed for decades and with the full knowledge of the effects to the devastating toxicity of a carcinogenic fluorocarbon.
DuPont’s next move? See The Devil We Know to find out, but maybe bring your therapist, a lawyer, and a barf bag.