First, the setting. I was in San Francisco to review How to Let Go of the World and Love All The Things Climate Can’t Change, the latest documentary from filmmaker and flaming faucet fraudster Josh Fox. This famously walkable city — and the fact that the film was being shown at a green film festival — put me in a particular mood, so I decided to walk the three miles to the Castro theatre.
These three miles made me realize the inspiration for all those dystopian Hollywood movies, created by liberals, where the monied, beautiful elite live in/above a crazy, ragged underclass who have a hopeless, brutish existence. It was three miles of crazy “homeless” people who were almost parodic in their insanity. It was also three miles of craft breweries and restaurants full of the most beautiful of the beautiful people. And there were galleries, too, where you could buy Picassos and Mondrians with people outside whose faces and teeth looked like a Picasso had a fight with a Mondrian.
There was a vague threat of violence in the constant panhandling and the screeching and the peeing. It’s no surprise UBER was invented in San Francisco. Standing on the pavement trying to hail a cab is more than an inconvenience in this city. Its a crapshoot with the prizes ranging from discomfort and disease to assault and murder.
Honestly, as I turned onto Castro Street, I’ve never been as happy to see dozens of strapping young gay men. Among the clean streets, the tight t-shirts, and the bulging biceps, I felt safe.
And so did the other several hundred people who turned out for the film — Fox’s third anti-fossil fuel documentary — a kind of follow up/jumping off from Gasland 1 and 2 which demonized fracking and launched the worldwide anit-fracking movement.
Yes, the Let Go and Love screening was a safe space — not just from the crazies outside but from awkward questions inside. The film was a poetic journey by Mr. Fox who has the air of a modern day missionary, spreading his teachings to grateful natives in five continents. Sometimes he even listened to the natives — no matter what nonsense they espoused. Fox listened to various peoples in various locales and their “fascinating” stories, stories that the Brooklyn-based filmmaker would probably mock if they were opined by a southern Christian preacher.
One tribe solemnly announced they are descended from jaguars (the animal, not the cars, I presume). Another believed that everything on the planet — every animal, every tree, every leaf — has a spirit. Mr. Fox looked wondrous as he heard this because in his worldview, and in the worldview of the audience in the Castro Theater, no amount of nonsense that comes from a colorfully dressed native should ever, ever be questioned. They are special. This is safe space. No awkward questions, please.
Fox claims it was the discovery that a tree he planted as a child was being destroyed by a beetle compelled him to make How To Let Go.
He explained it was now running rampant in the northeastern United States because of the mild winters caused by climate change.
Except that later in this sprawling documentary Fox solemnly goes through a list of extreme weather caused by climate change including the polar vortex shift which had led to the “extremely cold” record breaking winters in Boston and new York in 2010 and 2011.
So climate change is causing both extremely mild and extremely cold winters in the same place.
And throughout the film it was case of different continent — same contradictions. We are guided through the rainforest by a local pineapple farmer to showcase the destruction of the forest by other farmers. Fox didn’t feel it was important to ask how this “good farmer” had created his own farm in the rainforest.
Every so often, Fox allowed himself a partial white man’s burden, wondering in the film if his lifestyle could be contributing to climate change and, therefore, the destruction of the native villages. But he doesn’t worry too much.
In a Q&A after the screening, Mr. Fox was asked how he had changed his lifestyle and how we all could change our lifestyle to avert the apparently looming crisis. Mr. Fox chose to interpret the question as meaning what actions could we all take to help him promote his film. This was a safe space, after all.
And it’s clear Mr. Fox does not believe in what he quite literally preaches in the documentary. He did the Q&A through Skype, not to reduce his carbon emissions, but because he had just recently been in a car accident and was medically prevented from flying. Reducing car use and stopping flying is for other people who must sacrifice to save the planet.
And in this safe space, there was no room for introspection or even analysis of how ludicrous it is that a filmmaker flew to five continents to tell the rest of us that we can no longer fly or travel. And by “we” I mean “the little people.” The important people, like Josh Fox, well, they are a bit “more equal” and, thus, have to travel — for the greater good.
Fox and the audience in the Castro Theater seemed oblivious to the contradictions and to the harm their ideas would do to the poorest people in the developed and developing world. They need cities, factories and hospitals, but all they got were neo-colonial pats on the head from Fox in a long (very long) meandering piece of docu-poetry. It looks like this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a wimp.
Phelim McAleer is a Los Angels based journalist and filmmaker. He produced and directed FrackNation a documentary reveling the truth about fracking which is available on Netflix and Amazon. His most recent film is GOSNELL, a feature film about America’s biggest serial killer Kermit Gosnell. (GosnellMovie.com)
“How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” is now playing at the IFC Center in New York. It will be broadcast on HBO on June 27.