Film Review: A Not So “Fierce Green Fire”

A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet. Opens Friday at Landmark Kendall Square Cinema.

By Gerald Peary

Mark Kitchell, who made the classic documentary of student protest, Berkeley in the Sixties (1990), disappoints with this new non-fiction work, a stiff, crudely told history of the ecology and naturalist movements. Kitchell’s heart is in the proper place, and any person of decency will share his concerns for a healthier globe and take the side of his valiant eco-heroes over greedy, uncaring business and timid, compromised government. But this documentary—with an all-star cast of revolving voice-overs (Robert Redford, Isabel Allende, Meryl Streep, etc.)—plays like a didactic high school civics lesson. I agree totally with its politics while abhorring its unimaginative political correctness.

Kitchell divides his film into five sections—Conservation, Pollution, Going Global, etc—and the first four parts all try to show, sometimes convincingly, that it’s possible to fight the system, and even to win. The most compelling sequences in the documentary are indeed times when David knocks about corporate Goliath: mighty Greenpeace volunteers stopping the slaughter of whales, Chico Mendes leading a peasant revolt against those who destroy the Brazilian rain forests. The most moving tale of all is that of radicalized housewife Lois Gibbs, who, in 1979, faced off against the federal government over toxic waste causing birth defects to babies born at the Love Canal.

But also there’s a lot of dull, out-of-touch historic footage here and oodles of earnest, white-male talking points. And there’s a kind of forced pollyanaism because everyone knows that the bad guys on this globe ultimately hold the cards. All comes crashing down in the last chapter on Climate Change. Even Kitchell has to concede that the world gets toastier by the year; and, bolstered by corporate profiteering, no major polluting country is doing a damned thing to stop it.

No, Virginia, this is not the best of all possible worlds, even as Kitchell tries to rescue his film at the very end with a buoyant wall of Family of Man-like images and a hearty, lets-all-get-together folk song.

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