“If you actually go and experience someone else’s culture…you can’t help but connect to the humanity within them…People have to get out and interact.” ~ Ali Smith
“In order to see that interconnectedness we need to be open to it, which means to be curious about the world.” ~ Alan Senauke
Made by three friends and fellow nomads—Guy Reid, Christoph Ferstad, and Steve Watts Kennedy—over the course of three years, Planetary is a subtle and stunning documentary that asks us to reconsider our role in the environmental and social crises that are currently affecting our planet.
But it is also a love letter to travel, emphasising the importance of contact with both the natural world and of other cultures in order to get back in touch with our common humanity, too often lost in the frenetic pace and bright distractions of modern life.
In discussing the impact of technology, it’s often far too easy for commentators to fall into two extreme camps: those that believe that technology is slowly destroying us in a million tiny ways by reducing empathy, encouraging isolation, eroding creativity, etc.; and those that blindly celebrate and encourage every new thing with no regard for context or implication on the basis that technology is progress and progress is good.
Planetary avoids such simplification. The film opens with the Apollo missions, huge technological achievements that brought us the first views of our fragile world, over which astronaut Ron Garan shares his own experiences and we are reminded that it was humanity’s tools that gave us the global perspective and the context in which to view our communal choices and the direction of our species.
When challenged about whether technology and progress were at the root of all our present problems in the Q&A after the New York premiere, Steve deftly deflected any simplification of the idea that technology could be solely to blame by reminding us that technology is simply a part of our evolution as human beings. What we’re seeing now is more like a crisis point in that evolution, similar to the oxygen crisis that precipitated the development of photosynthesis in plants. Our tools have worked incredibly well for us up to this point but without a radical shift, they may not continue working for us.
It’s this level of understanding and compassion that makes Planetary such a delight.
While the film does illuminate our present danger, it remains ultimately an optimistic look at us, our progress, and our capacity as individuals to affect meaningful change. It encourages meditation and mindfulness as one path to becoming more globally conscious and is, itself, a beautiful meditation on the impact that humanity is having on this fragile planet.
With interviewees ranging from astronauts Ron Garan and Mae Jemison to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa from Tibet, there are a lot of smart people throughout offering ideas on how we might start the next step of our evolution—one that sees us become more aware of our impact both on the earth and each other—that doesn’t necessarily need to tear down everything that we’ve achieved so far.The film is beautifully shot, and there’s a strong sense of symmetry through many of the visuals underlying an idea of balance—both the balance of embracing our natural curiosity and desire to build while maintaining a viable biosphere in which to do it, as well as balance in our own lives, finding moments of slowness, peace, and compassion in an increasingly frenetic and outrage-led culture. Symmetry is also used in many of the city scenes to create a frame or channel through which humanity flows—whether on busy sidewalks or driving through city streets at night—that emphasises this idea of connectedness, reminding us that, although we are individual pedestrians or cars in our daily lives, we are part of a larger organism.
It is a vision of humanity as a river, rather than as millions of individual drops of water, impacted by the world through which it flows but also, through the millions of small decisions we each make every day, impacting it in return—an idea cleverly underlined through judicious use of time lapse.
We are shown the collective result of all of our individual actions but the film refuses to simply dismiss everything man made as ugly and everything natural as beautiful. Some of the most stunning shots are those of the cities, as we pan over structures that are monuments to humanity’s ingenuity and engineering prowess.However, we are gently encouraged to see the world as it could be—as a more harmonious interaction between the two, bringing with it a better understanding of the world and of each other, and a greater sense of peace within ourselves. Throughout, the Human Suits provide a contemplative, understated score serves to maintain a state of openness and understanding as we are treated to this wonderful imagery of both man-made and natural environments which serves to create a feeling of sacredness, not of blame, especially as it’s contrasted with images of more holistic examples of humanity and nature.
And it’s this core idea of interconnectedness, reflected in many of the interviewees’ thoughts, that gives the film it’s ultimately uplifting message.
We are a multi-cultured, politically diverse planet of over 7 billion people, and it’s refreshingly humble for the filmmakers to realise that it’s not possible for three young men from the UK to come up with a solution to the various environmental and social challenges we’re facing that will work for everyone, everywhere.
Instead, by promoting mindfulness, understanding, and travel, we are encouraged to see that, by both experiencing more of the natural world and by turning inward to reflect on it, we might better be able to grow our own compassion and understanding and, in doing so, find ideas and solutions—however small—that can help reconnect us to the planet we’re in danger of losing.
Planetary is available through Vimeo’s new video on demand service and is $5.99 to rent, or $12.99 to download a DRM-free (which you can watch on any device that supports video) version in either standard or high definition.
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