by Sarah Allan
While this post may come too late for those in Vancouver to head to the Rio Theatre to check out the documentary ‘Surviving Progress’, I’d recommend that you use your interweb resourcefulness to find it in your city or somehow see it. (NOTE –> It’s been extended one more week in Vancouver until the 15th!) I’d also like to recommend that at some point, you check out and support the Rio Theatre, Vancouver’s hidden gem for premier independent cinema, first-run feature films and live entertainment. Before I go on, here’s the trailer…
‘Surviving Progress’ is a documentary based on the book ‘A Short History of Progress’ by Ronald Wright, written by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, and basically it connects the concept of progress and how it has manifested in our civilization with the degradation of the environment. The film opens by questioning what progress really is and what progress really means. Progress, after all, does not necessarily indicate that things are getting better, but just that they are moving forward. With that thought in mind, the movie traces the development of civilization, through industrialization and unbridled capitalism, tying in the development of the world economy and global lending practices, and shows how this ‘progress’ has come at the expense of Earth’s natural resources and has negatively affected the lives of those in developing debtor nations.
Not a lot of new information was presented, and I’m sure that most who will see the film are fairly convinced of it’s underlying message already, but I did take away from the film a few conceptual gems:
1) Progress Traps – the idea that we may progress so far in a certain direction that we collapse the entire project. The example given was the hunting of wooly mammoths by our evolutionary predecessors, who started out killing a wooly mammoth here or there, then developed tools to take down a few at a time, and eventually realized they could kill a whole herd at once by driving them off a cliff; a hunting method that led the wooly mammoth to become extinct. Ronald Wright suggests in the film that the human project of civilization itself may be such a progress trap, in that we may develop and industrialize and raise of our standard of living and population numbers so far, increasing our dependency on the Earth’s limited resources so much, that the whole thing collapses.
2) ‘Playing god’ involves developing technological ability, but also MORAL ability – So though we are developing ways of manipulating genomes to address some of the problems facing humans today, including finding a replacement for oil, making us fairly advanced in terms of science, and allowing us to ‘play god’ by manipulating our environment, we may not be developing our ability to make moral decisions around these practices at the same rate. For example, Synthetic Genomics, and J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., have been developing a way to make synthetic fules from algae, which sounds great at face value as it will help decrease our dependency on oil, but in reality comes with a large environmental and human cost, as forests and farmland on which people depend are being snatched up and turned to algae fields which also consume large amounts of water. So in essence, this ‘solution’ to the oil dependency problem just results in a different dependency problem and a different land scarcity problem, and negatively effects the lives and livelihoods of people who previously used said land.
All in all, worth seeing, worth turning your mind to, and I did learn a few things and enjoyed a date with Ms. Tracy Ramsay. Not to mention, I ran into some wonderful East Vancouver locals and entrepreneurs who helped me get in the mindset for the film. The Rio is, after all, an East Vancouver landmark, having been built in 1938, where you’re bound to run into some like-minded person you know who is also there to check out their latest offering, unlikely to be found elsewhere in the city. While the ‘Occupy’ Movement has recently raised awareness about the lack of spaces to develop and share progressive ideas, the value of places like the Rio, that show important documentaries and spread knowledge, has definitely been made more clear. Support these spaces and the platforms they provide, or they go away!
The Rio Theatre is also awesome for another reason, as they are a part of a campaign advocating for a change in the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Act to allow single screen movie theatres to sell alcohol, a law over 90 years old (Hello prohibition era!). Would it have been great to have the option of a beer while watching the film last night? I would say so.
You can find and sign your name to their petition here:
Check out more about the film here:
And Check out the Rio Theatre here: