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Review: Earth (aka Erde)

— by BEV QUESTAD —

“When a girl at a bar asks you what you do, and you look at her and you can honestly tell her right in the eyes that ‘I move mountains for a living,’ she questions that.”

Sometimes a one-minute trailer is simply better than the film. Tightly woven with pithy comments from men in the field, examples of dramatic earth-moving machinery almost falling down a cliff with their load, and aerial photos of what a denuded site looks like during dynamiting, the trailer portends an earthy and lively message on the environmental havoc necessary to propel progress.

“The outer crust is like the virginity of the mountain. We get to touch this material that no one has touched before,” says an Italian – an Italian marble tractor driver in fact – during a work break.

But when you watch the full movie it is hard to stay awake. The film team has forgotten the lives of their men and what was significant in their video captures. Long times are spent with a still camera focused on bare, dusty, repetitive earth moving. The tiring footage loses its momentum and … what was the reason for this film again?

The conflict is over what we do about progress. How could we build spaces for people to live in an environmentally conscious way? How can we design a plumbing system without gouging out an underground route for it? How do we extract the marble from the mountain in Italy and the copper from underground somewhere without some major machinery and its destructive hit to the earth?

What are the dangers? How do we store nuclear waste in a salt mine and how/where do we remove it when it becomes at-risk? How do we safely tunnel through mountains?

The filmmaker, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, makes us the witness. There is no narration and even the questions for the people involved in the machinations of earth’s penetration are muted. Geyrhalter is an expert in this type of documentary genre and he has won awards.

There is a change in the last part of the film when a Native-Canadian shows Geyrhalter’s crew the truth behind the commercial curtain. They have been advised the fish in their river are too toxic to eat more than once or twice a month. Oil barrels, asbestos and building debris litter old land sites. A barrier prohibits trespass and cameras.

Comments from The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times refer to this dirge on dirt “as mesmerizing to watch as it is appalling to think about.” And “completely fascinating, unexpectedly compelling documentary!” But I will tell you, frankly, to watch the trailer (below) and save the time. The message is important, but Geyrhalter takes too ploddingly long to tell it.


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Credits

Director/Cinematographer: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Assistant Directors/Research: Sophia Laggner, Evelyne faye-Horak
Editing: Niki Mossbock

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