Surviving Progress: Film Review

This cautionary documentary makes a strong case that our technological advances are in fact dooming us.

Filmmakers Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks' documentary makes the case that technological advances are cementing our destruction.

You’d be well advised to stock up on your antidepressants before watching Surviving Progress, Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks’ not exactly uplifting documentary. Inspired by Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress, the film convincingly and concisely argues that the technological advancement upon which we’ve been relying is possibly cementing our destruction.

Not that all of the talking heads on display necessarily share that apocalyptic view. “We are entering an increasingly dangerous period in our history,” declares Stephen Hawking in his artificial voice. “But I’m an optimist.”

Well, that’s a relief. But most viewers may not come to the same conclusion after listening to notable experts from a variety of fields comment on the dangers of overpopulation, overconsumption, the destruction of our natural resources, the rapaciousness of capitalism, and our cultural decline as evidenced by the Twilight movies. Well, not really that last one.

There have been a plethora of similarly apocalyptic documentaries in recent years, but few with the pedigree of this one, which counts Martin Scorsese among its executive producers. Among the subjects weighing in are author Margaret Atwood, talking about the dangers of debt; anthropologist Jane Goodall, who points out that human beings are the only species who seem intent on destroying their own home; Simon Johnson, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, who comments that “It’s in the DNA of bankers to take massive risks, to pay themselves ridiculous salaries and to collapse; and Vaclav Smil, a global energy expert who sums up the solution fairly succinctly: “We have to use less.”

As with many films of its ilk, Surviving Progress takes on more than it can comfortably handle, veering haphazardly from subject to subject — one minute the disappearance of the Amazon rainforests, the next the danger of scientists attempting to alter genetic codes — without really examining any of them in satisfying depth.

But it certainly provides plenty of food for thought along the way. And if it makes you too upset, check out the recently published, well-reviewed book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, which presents exactly the opposite argument.

Opens: April 6 (First Run Features)
Production: Cinemaginaire, Big Picture Media, National Film Board of Canada
Directors-screenwriters: Mathieu Roy, Harold Crooks
Producers: Daniel Louis, Denise Robert
Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Mark Achbar, Betsy Carson, Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Director of photography: Mario Janelle
Editor: Louis-Martin Paradis
Music: Patrick Watson, Michael Ramsey
Not rated, 86 minutes