If judged by craftsmanship alone, better feature documentaries than Rob Stewart’s Revolution will doubtless be released this year. I’m not sure, however, there will be many that are more important.
Even if Stewart’s calculus about looming ecological disaster is wrong by 50 per cent or 75 per cent – it derives from sober and credible scientific analysis – this is a profoundly disturbing work. It should be essential viewing, particularly in high schools and universities, whence the next generation of policy makers will one day emerge, hopefully more enlightened than we have been.
Stewart may be remembered for Sharkwater, his 2007 film about the reckless slaughter of the world’s shark populations, in order to satisfy the quaint Chinese appetite for a culinary delicacy, shark fin soup. A huge success, the movie dramatically raised the issue’s global profile and helped catalyze a growing, if incomplete, crackdown on the nefarious practice of finning (killing sharks for the fins alone and dumping the carcasses at sea).
But as the opening segments of Revolution make clear, the precipitous decline of sharks is only one aspect of a larger and far more alarming trend – the increasing acidification of the Earth’s oceans and the perils that it may portend.
In other words, forget about the fish – the survival of the human species itself is in jeopardy.
Stylistically, Revolution, like Sharkwater, is an exercise in guerrilla filmmaking. As much a manifesto as a movie, it’s often didactic and, at times, shamelessly preachy. Stewart is omnipresent. He narrates the film and is too often on screen (the naked ecologist), overlaying a cult of personality that, in terms of the broader message, can feel gratuitous.
But against the eye-rolling that Stewart’s diatribes occasion must be weighed the grim statistical smorgasbord he sets out: 400 oceanic dead zones, so acidified that nothing can flourish, not even jellyfish; the likelihood that two thirds of all species will be extinct by the end of this century; the 40-per-cent decline, over the past 50 years, in vital, oxygen-creating phytoplankton; the staggering loss of our coral reefs – as much as 90 per cent in some regions – the effective rain forests of the sea, home to a quarter of all species.
A persuasive gallery of talking heads is invoked to endorse the call to action. Among these, few are more compelling than Seychellian diplomat Ronnie Jumeau. Since reason and logic have clearly not sufficed to change our misguided ways, what scale of ecological catastrophe, he asks, will be required to get our collective attention – and will it, by then, simply be too late?
Evangelist that he is, Stewart ends on a note of qualified hope. With sufficient will, it is still possible to inspire a generation of eco-warriors that will reverse current trends. Let’s hope he’s right.
Historians and anthropologists frequently muse about what exactly killed off earlier civilizations – the Maya in Central America, the inhabitants of Easter Island, or those who lived 12,000 years ago at Turkey’s Göbekli Tepe. As Revolution makes painfully clear, they will not have to wonder about the death of our own.