The icecaps are melting. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on earth. By 2100 it has been estimated that our oceans will be between 1 to 4 feet higher, threatening coastal systems and low-lying areas. It is set to ravish entire communities.
These issues haven’t appeared randomly. They are induced by mindless human consumption, by the endless cycle of production to sate a capitalist economy that operates on a global scale with zero accountability.
Film holds the power to convey the lives of others, and in this increasingly technocentric and globalized world, where words don’t often translate, it allows us to perceive that which cannot be expressed.
One of the first non-fiction films to firmly and directly delineate the issues surrounding global warming is Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a beautiful and poignant tale about a 6-year-old girl called Hushpuppy and her father Wink, who live in a community referred to as the Bathtub. It is set in a Southern Louisiana bayou cut off from the rest of the world by a levee.
The story interweaves the complexity of the impoverished lives of those who live there, with a problematic yet loving relationship between a father and daughter. While Wink is not the easiest character to empathize with, he is product of his unstable and volatile surroundings. Emphasizing that we are all the sum of our experiences, he is doing his best to keep his daughter alive in dire conditions, the only way he knows how.
While they are caught amidst the ravages of a rapidly deteriorating environment. Beasts of the Southern Wild celebrates and acknowledges the people who call this place home, who have no voice in mainstream society and are trapped by the damaging consequences of globalization.
Despite the bleak nature of the film and its on-location shooting, the cinematography is subjective, evocative, beautiful and divisive. By intercutting footage of icecaps melting throughout the film, it reinforces the deadly reality of global warming, which will eventually eradicate their community. It is predicted by the IPCC that sea levels will rise by 7-23 inches by the end of the century.
Global warming has not yet pervaded non-fiction film-making even though it is a global issue.
This issue needs to be addressed, but not in a mindless end of world blockbuster like Geostorm, or a sombre apocalyptic film like The Road. Instead, it should be rooted in a real world, socio-political film about the world we live in now which highlights the reality of global warming and reflects the damage it is doing.
While global warming is discussed in documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth, it has gained little traction with contemporary film-makers. This needs to change. People need to care more about the planet that they live on. Film has the power to provoke thought on big issues in society, non-fiction films in particular hold the capacity to captivate wider audiences.
The community in Beasts of the Southern Wild is characterized by their uneven porches and sidewalks; the land is sinking and has disfigured their homes. The film depicts the lives of resilient, intelligent people who make the most out of the lives they have been given. These people have been dealt an unjust hand in a world that does not care for its environment, or the poverty that has spread throughout communities in a capitalist driven America. As the planet warms and the icecaps melt, there are many complex issues that arise with it. It isn’t simply getting warmer.
Global warming is being sighted by the NRDC as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. As temperatures rise, particularly in climates that are not accustomed to them, serious health risks occur. In the United States alone, there are hundreds of heat related deaths. In fact, this has killed more people in America than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and lightening combined.
Communities like the Bathtub have also been devastated by the exploitation of the world’s oil resources; the area itself is close to, and affected by, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Though the film’s tone is imbued with a pervading sense of environmental realism, it delves into the subconscious of Hushpuppy to show the return of aurochs from the melting icecaps. These symbolise the end of the world to her, for “any day now the fabric of the Universe is comin’ unraveled”.
But how can she perceive her environment differently? There is no viable aid, no call to arms, no savoir. Nor is there for the rapidly depleting planet we live on.
However, to see the people in this community as victims of circumstance, as poor and impoverished, is to miss the point of the film. The people in the Bathtub live reflexively, dynamically adjusting to their environment and do so, for the most part, as a close-knit collective with their own education structure and community. They do not have the luxuries of others, but they do not necessarily want to. Attempts made to homogenise these people, to force them from all they know into western conformity is not welcomed or achieved.
Hushpuppy makes simple but striking remarks about the planet and the environment around her. Quite plainly, she remarks “Trees are gonna die first”. Her resilience and innocence pervades throughout the story as a means of expression, despite being a young and imaginative girl, we are not lulled into a false sense of security. She is well aware of the realities of global warming, while we ignore it, she has to live in its consequences. Beasts of the Southern Wild is set in what could be a post-apocalyptic America, but is actually a reality within this wealthy western country.
But they are not victims.
The film is an ode to the people who live in the bathtub, to their intellect, the lives they lead and the community shared, while also magnifying the problematic nature of their environment in a rapidly deteriorating world.
If you want to watch Beasts of the Southern Wild, it is currently available on Amazon Prime.