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Elemental Ushers in Pollution Porn

Can a film be too beautiful? With its appreciative close-ups of bubbling, pearl-gray rivers and dramatic vistas of green-gray oil sands, the eco-doc Elementalis so stunningly shot it might well be pollution porn, if anyone wanted such a thing. Fighting to eliminate these gorgeous toxin-scapes are the film's heroes—Rajendra Singh, Eriel Deranger, and Jay Harman—three activists with vastly different personalities and backgrounds striving to repair their local environs with the imperfect tools available to them. The soft-spoken but impatient Singh, a water activist, tries to convince his fellow citizens to protect the sacred Ganges River from excessive damming and human waste. The earnestly indignant Deranger, a Native Canadian, has taken up the even more quixotic mission of ending drilling in the Alberta tar sands, especially where it overlaps with indigenous lands. Harman, an Australian engineer prone to New Agey pronouncements like "Nature never, ever lets you down," occasionally reduces himself to a stereotype of a flighty, first-world hippie, yet offers the most concrete solutions through his energy-efficient inventions, such as a consumer-friendly appliance that converts urine into potable water. (He's also patented a wind machine purported to reverse climate change by redistributing atmospheric heat.) The film's embarrassingly gushy segments about Deranger's love life are unpardonable, but the insightful contrasts within the aggregate picture make up for the film's leisurely pace and lack of narrative propulsion. Elemental isn't essential, but it's a fascinating if limited portrait of the diversity of eco-warriordom today.

 
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