Eco Doc Revolution Hews Too Close to Formula


Director Rob Stewart commits a tactical error common to contemporary documentary filmmakers whose work rings the alarm on the damage we do to global ecology: He so painstakingly outlines what is almost irreparable harm that the shoehorned optimism at the film’s end seems misplaced to the point of naïveté.

Revolution, about the destruction being wrought on the world’s oceans, was inspired by a post-screening question an audience member asked when Stewart was promoting his 2007 documentary Sharkwater: “What’s the point in trying to save sharks when U.N. reports suggest that by 2048 the world’s natural fisheries will be wiped out?” Unable to answer, Stewart set out to discover what was causing the collapse of the world’s fish supply.

The culprit, of course, is modern living and what we extract from nature — fossil fuel — versus what we put back: waste in the form of dangerous levels of carbon dioxide. Stewart’s quest takes him around the world and to the depths of the sea. What his camera captures is alternately beautiful (various forms of sea life; lemurs skipping across a field) and frightening (experts who detail just how fragile our collective ecosystems have been made; the rigidness of governments and corporations in pursuit of profits).

Revolution is educational, but its shortcomings are glaring. In mapping the causes of sea death, Stewart never mentions the British Petroleum spill, or the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. The ecological fallout from both was staggering, and is still mounting. Citing those incidents (and at least mentioning a few other industrial catastrophes) would have made Stewart’s point land harder — but also would have made the “We’re gonna beat the bad guys” ending an even tougher sell.