A Deserved Portrait of Women Working Towards Environmental Justice, Arise Plays Like an Infomercial


Activist documentaries that set out to provide prepackaged answers rather than start conversations make audiences feel they don’t need to do any of the work on their own, which tends to result in little more than a warm, fuzzy feeling as the credits roll. It’s the same with Oscar-baiting period pieces about social progress of any kind: Sensibilities are flattered, complexities ignored. Lori Joyce and Candice Orlando’s Arise, which is narrated by Daryl Hannah, falls in line with this trend not despite but very much because of its noble aims. An extended portrait of women working for environmental justice, it trots the globe from Kenya to Ecuador to Brooklyn as talking head after talking head gives a slight variation on the film’s one (admittedly admirable) progressive theme. Breaking the monotony in a bad way are poetic interludes in which Hannah says something like, “The trees cry out to you and all the animals,” for reasons that will remain unclear to all but the most tuned-in to the natural world. As a result, the mother-daughter filmmaking team’s doc reads more as a feature-length infomercial for the many organizations it highlights—all of which are more than deserving of the attention—than a probing look at what it means to be at one with our planet in the 21st century.