The Earth From On High: A Review of HOME

Aerial shot of the Great Barrier Reef from the movie HOME.

Stunning, incredible, breathtaking, horrific, disturbing, depressing - these are all words I would use to describe HOME, a new documentary from French filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand, narrated by Glenn Close. HOME is a tremendous illustration of nature at its finest and humanity's impact on it at its most destructive, all as seen, as Bette Midler might touchingly croon, "from a distance."

I was fortunate to attend the film's U.S. premiere this week at Columbia University.

The screening was followed by an in-depth discussion about the issues raised in the film among panelists invited by the Columbia Climate Center, who, along with Maison Francais, co-sponsored the event. At the panel discussion, Bertrand said he was inspired to make the film after inviting Al Gore to show An Inconvenient Truth to the French Parliament. Bertrand saw an opportunity to use his exceptional photography skills as a means to influence a large audience through film and, as Bertrand puts it, "tell the fantastic story of life on Earth - our story."

The film was shot in 54 countries and 120 locations with a high definition camera entirely from a helicopter (at a range of 5 m to 2000 m above ground) without a script. I have to say that, if a film could illustrate what we at Ecocentric are trying to communicate, this is it.

Bertrand started his career as a photographer and knows how to elicit a strong emotional response with his imagery. Scenes of water and ice, waterfalls and forests, volcanoes and deserts are all amazing. As I watched, I wondered whether some of the shots were Photoshopped stills, and my cynical inkling was a testament to how brilliant nature can be.

There are also shots of the modern world and it's impact on nature - industrialized agriculture, concentrated animal feedlots, skyscrapers reaching ever higher in the sky, artificial lands being constructed in water, rivers that have been reduced to a trickle, forests that have been cut down or burned - as well as some of the millions of people who have not benefited from industrialization and live in abject poverty. The imagery was difficult, if not downright painful, to watch. Just as the feedlots came on screen I noticed numerous people fidgeting in their seats or pulling out their phones, as though they needed a distraction.

Bertrand says he shot the whole film aerially because he felt, "It was important to see the world from above, to see a new perspective." He says, "We don't want to believe what we know. It's too late to be pessimistic. We have no time to be pessimistic. To be an ecologist, an activist, is to love life. You see beauty and love everywhere. We don't love each other and the planet enough." He added that, "After seeing the world and its floods and fires it's impossible to deny climate change."

After travelling the world, Bertrand says he has met many people who hold up the American way of life as the gold standard. But as we know, this is unsustainable. We are using natural resources at a rate that will deplete them in short order. Of course ecology knows no borders and our actions are often felt by those who are most vulnerable, those who are, often in other countries, out of our field of vision.

Bertrand believes we are going to succeed only if we work together - individuals, corporations and governments all making commitments and taking actions for change. The problems from climate change aren't acute problems yet, but time is running out. Betrand says, "We need a revolution, maybe not one of political upheaval like the kind happening in Egypt and Tunisia, but one where we use our resources in sustainable ways." To Bertrand, being a vegetarian is a revolutionary act.

Bertrand is doing his part in that revolution by showing the film around the world -- for free. In fact, the film was released in 2009 and he has shown it in many countries, but it took him two years to bring it to America, where we have problems marrying the concepts of "free" and "copyrighted." The film is available on numerous platforms including DVD and downloads and even on YouTube. Beginning on February 4, the East Village Cinema in New York City will show the film for free and Bertrand will host each showing.

Bertrand has made a huge contribution to the discussion about what is happening to our home, the planet Earth, by making this film. In return, he's asking people to make their own contributions. The action doesn't have to be huge. It can be as simple as finding an organization that works on an issue you care about (reading EcoCentric is a great way to learn about the work other organizations are doing) and volunteering some time to them. Watch this film and talk about it with your friends. Then do something about it. Start a revolution.


Click on the video on the upper right side of this post to watch HOME in it's entirety.