Unlike the recent Leonardo DiCaprio climate-change documentary Before the Flood, the informative but thematically uneven The Anthropologist eschews celebrity cameos in favor of a more sociological perspective on a global crisis.
The film — directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger — follows Susie Crate, a professor of Anthropology at George Mason University, around the globe to investigate the effects of climate change on some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. In tow is her daughter Katie, whose delightful teenage goofiness serves as a welcome counterpoint to her mother’s professorial somberness.
The well-meaning filmmakers try to elevate the importance of this central relationship by linking the mother and daughter’s shared experiences to those of anthropologist Margaret Mead and her daughter Mary Catherine Bateson. Archival clips of Mead play between scenes of Susie and Katie gently goading each other, and Bateson appears in interviews throughout, speaking in sound-bites about the necessity of learning from one’s elders.
The juxtaposition of shots of Susie and Katie working through mild irritations with those of villagers gesturing toward devastated lands is more than a little tonally incongruous — indeed, it’s frequently off-putting. But the film is saved by its illuminating — if heartbreaking — examination of isolated locales rarely seen on film.
Susie’s anthropological viewpoint is also a welcome rarity — her sidebars with the filmmakers about her approach to working with native peoples help to humanize a crisis too often couched in abstract numerical terms. In these moments, The Anthropologist becomes a timely and vital call to take both the science and the cultural effects of climate change seriously.
Directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger
Opens November 11, Cinema Village