Two Films, One Planet

I have come upon two new documentary films that tackle urgent problems facing humanity, though they do so from different angles. Both films reinforce, for me, the basic idea that we are all one family living on one planet — and that we need to work together even more closely to get these problems solved for the future.

Let me share a bit about the two films with you, and with an encouragement for you to look into them yourself and arrive at your own judgments.

• Ain’t I a Person?
Depending on which study or report you follow (and there are many out there), the United States is either the richest nation on Earth or one of the richest — and at the same time, the U.S. is one of the poorest. How can this be? This feature-length, independently produced film (1 hour, 40 minutes) focuses on the issue of poverty in the U.S. today and delves into some of those contradictions.

Keith Kilty, a former sociology professor in Ohio, had two goals in mind when making this film. One was to “dispel some of the myths that are now rampant about poverty” — such as the notion that poverty does not really exist in the U.S. today, that poor people are lazy and dumb, etc.

Another goal was “to bring a human face back to poverty” — that is, to take the debate about poverty out of the hands of the so-called “experts” and have the problems addressed mainly by those who know best: poor people, those living on the front lines of severe economic struggle. In giving them a voice, the film also gives those people back a sense of human dignity that has been taken from them by having lived in poverty.

“Staying alive, staying healthy, staying fed, keeping a roof over your head, holding the family together into one unit — that’s the struggle in America,” says George Mynatt, one of the persons interviewed in the film. “That’s poverty in America.” He summarizes the problems well in just a few words, far more simply and eloquently than any economist I have ever heard.

official website of Ain’t I a Person? includes some interview clips from the film, reviews about the film and a study guide to use with the film as a teaching tool in classrooms. The DVD of the film can be ordered directly from the website and is being made available for public screenings.

At a time when some U.S. citizens still appear to ask the incredible question “Is there really poverty in the USA?” and when those in positions of authority — up to the president of the United States — ignore the depth of poverty to the nation’s peril, it is important that small-budget films like this are being made at the grassroots level to keep public attention directed at the core of society’s problems.

No high-tech special effects, dazzling graphics or media celebrities are to be found here in this film — just plain interviews with real, ordinary people talking about a problem, poverty, that is becoming all too familiar to increasingly more working-class people on the U.S. economic ladder. This film appears to be a very good tool for educating and organizing people around the issue of poverty in our lifetime.

• MOTHER: Caring for 7 Billion
This film takes the single issue of poverty, expands it globally and includes it within a much larger context of world problems. At the center of this U.S. documentary film is what the filmmakers call a “taboo” subject to talk about today: human population growth, and how it affects all life on the planet.

Why is it “taboo” to talk about cutting down the numbers of humans on the planet? Perhaps because of all the religious hype surrounding birth control in both developed and developing nations. Whatever the reason, this film,
Mother, makes a convincing case that we need to put the human population explosion at the front and center of all serious international efforts to address environmental destruction, poverty, food security, women’s empowerment and children’s rights.

The “mother” in this film, of course, is Mother Earth, the life-support system of all living species on the planet. But it also refers to the role of mothers in human societies, and how central they are to making positive change in the world.

The “7 billion” in the film’s subtitle refers to the numbers of human beings on Planet Earth since 2011 — a dramatic seven-fold increase since the human population worldwide first reached one billion back in the 1800s. “Compounded with our ravenous appetite for natural resources, population growth is putting an unprecedented burden on the life system we all depend on, as we refuse to face the fact that more people equals more problems,” the film’s synopsis states.

The Denver, Colorado-based filmmakers, Christophe Fauchère and Joyce Johnson, have much of
Mother revolve around a U.S. theater professor/activist and her trip to Ethiopia. There she encounters a local activist working to empower women and others working on population growth issues. The film also gives a spotlight to the Austrian-born scholar/social scientist in the U.S., Riane Eisler, who argues persuasively that we need to place gender at the heart of all social change on the planet.

The film does touch on the issues of family planning, contraception and women’s rights over their own bodies, along with moves by organized religion (the Catholic Church is named openly in the film) to subvert those issues. The film never comes out and says directly that women should use contraceptives and/or stop having more babies, but you get the feeling that that’s what the filmmakers want to say with this film. They walk a very careful line, obviously aware of the divisive issue of abortion among both liberal and conservative camps.

But in other ways, yes, this beautifully photographed film, with its special effects and high-tech graphics, does confront a long-held “taboo” of putting human population explosions as the main cause of problems on the planet. And in that way, the film, I think, succeeds. You can watch a 70-minute director’s cut of
Mother here on the official film website, and decide for yourself.

Whether it is the issue of poverty just within the borders of the United States, which the first film covers, or global poverty as one small symptom of a much wider problem of human socio-economic domination, as the second film asserts, you are bound to come away more informed by checking them both out. They are two different films about one planet, after all.
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