A massive environmental disaster in the Amazon Rainforest and one New York City family’s quest to go green are the topics of two new enviro-docs hitting theaters today.
“Moving briskly through a stranger-than-fiction, serpentine narrative that is still unfolding, Joe Berlinger’s remarkable documentary, ‘Crude,’ recounts an infuriating litany of South American exploitation, backroom glad-handing, and bureaucratic dead ends that has, among other collateral damages, created a Rhode Island–size ‘death zone’ of toxic pollution in the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon,” writes Scott Foundas in the Village Voice.
“In keeping with Berlinger’s excellent documentaries ‘Brother’s Keeper’ and ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘Crude’ is as concerned with the culture surrounding a legal action as it is in making a case,” notes Noel Murray in the A.V. Club. “‘Crude’ is so crammed with facts and figures that it can be a little dizzying, but what’s more important is what Berlinger records between all the talking-head interviews and vérité footage… ‘Crude’ is remarkably clear-eyed in the way it shows how even people on the right side of a cause only succeed if they’re willing to play a little dirty.”
Fernando F. Croce, writing for Slant Magazine, calls the documentary “a polished and haunting work of humanistic journalism…passionate enough to follow its subjects in the ground-level combat of street demonstrations and office showdowns.”
The New York Times’ A.O. Scott notes: “Too many filmmakers seem to think that a noble cause, a good heart and a digital video camera are all that is required for an effective documentary. Luckily, Mr. Berlinger has both a strong narrative instinct and a keen eye for incongruous, evocative and powerful images.”
Watch the trailer for “Crude” on YouTube.
Scott is far harder on “No Impact Man,” which follows a family’s attempt to maintain a totally sustainable lifestyle, with zero environmental, impact for one year. “Taken as a polemical documentary championing environmentally conscious action, ‘No Impact Man,’ directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, is of little interest and less utility,” writes Scott. “It provides no new scientific insights or political arguments, and celebrates various behavioral changes without assessing their value or importance. Mr. Beavan’s evangelical, self-congratulatory demeanor has the effect, especially early in the film, of playing to the unfortunate perception that what drives many environmentalists is, above all, the need to feel superior to their neighbors and fellow citizens.”
The Village Voice’s Aaron Hillis: “Unfolding mostly as real-time vérité, the film is less valuable for detailing Beavan’s expensive and punishing process to become greener than that jolly giant (he buys composting ‘worm boxes,’ for God’s sake) than it is for showing his deeply hesitant wife, Michelle Conlin—who laments her inability to dine at Pastis or buy iced quad espressos—give in to this decidedly un-fun lifestyle. We could all do better, definitely (be sure to sneak in your reusable bottles instead of buying from the concession stand!), but how much can we possibly glean from a guy whose idealism can be measured with a calendar?”
Other critics have found merit in Beavan’s experiment, however. New York Magazine’s David Edelstein writes that the doc “manages to be both amusing and unnerving, a reminder of how unsustainable our collective lifestyle has become. For all the media ridicule (and there’s a New Yorker piece now that adds to it), Beavan is not behind the curve but ahead of it.” Meanwhile, Scott Tobias at the A.V. Club notes that “The value of ‘No Impact Man,’ a compelling and suitably exasperating documentary about one family’s attempt to not harm the environment for a year, is that it forces viewers to reflect on their own casual consumption and waste.”
Watch the trailer for “No Impact Man” on YouTube.