Inspired by Ronald Wright's best-selling "A Short History of Progress," the First Run Features feature documentary Surviving Progress is a cautionary tale that is as intellectually challenging as it is beautifully written and presented. The film puts out there what many of us, myself have concluded - that, just perhaps, it is possible to have "too much of a good thing" and everything that we consider to be progressing in our society may actually be leading us into a downward spiral from which we cannot return.
Written and co-directed by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, Surviving Progress is reminiscent in its approach to the activist doc The Corporation, a critical darling of a doc that has given this film it's seal of approval. The film explores exactly what progress means in our society and guides the audience through the major "progress traps" that face our contemporary civilization in the areas of technology, economics, consumption, and the environment.
Surviving Progress also wisely looks at progress through a historical lens including what destroyed past civilizations and, in the end, examines what traps seem almost irrevocably embedded into our current society.
While in some ways Surviving Progress comes off as a bit of a doomsday doc, the film is actually a bit jarring in the ways in which Roy and Crooks manage to maintain an optimism despite the material that they are producing and the opinions that are being stated by such visionaries as Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Margaret Atwood and others.
The essential argument of Surviving Progress is, quite simply, that our society cannot possibly maintain the current rate of progress without running a serious, perhaps inevitable, risk of depleting our finite resources. While the U.S. has always been at the heart of this issue, with the market economies in China and India continuing to grow the issue itself has nearly reached a crisis issue.
While the film is beautifully produced and features marvelous camera work from Mario Janelle, there's also an argument that Crooks and Roy simply try to accomplish too much and in the process manage to dilute the film's impact considerably. Most of the issues discussed here are discussed in rather fundamental ways, an approach that lends itself to uncovering more questions than answers. That said, it is rather nice to have a film that doesn't go all histrionic and overplay the drama. Virtually everyone interviewed in Surviving Progress maintains a certain optimism that it is possible to, well, survive progress if we are willing to commit to drastic changes.
Surviving Progress is being released on DVD on September 25th with distrib First Run Features. The DVD includes some cool bonus materials including an introduction by Martin Scorsese at the film's New York premiere along with extended interviews with Jane Goodall, Ronald Wright, Michael Hudson and Jim Thomas. Additionally, a round-table discussion with the filmmakers is included from the Montreal International Documentary Festival.