As I was watching Stacey Stone and Diane Mellen's feature doc The Golden Rule, my very own yard was playing host to a local environmental consulting firm addressing the impact of a possible chemical leakage from a nearby strip center that may have found its way into the boundaries of my own property.
Indeed, I was feeling The Golden Rule mightily as the 70-minute film played out.
While most of us were raised with a kinder and gentler version of the Golden Rule that teaches us to "do unto others," the simple truth is that it's becoming more and more common for a twisted variation to occur - the one with the gold makes the rules.
Director Stone and Producer Mellen have long histories as social justice warriors turning the camera into a weapon of sorts to fight back against those who choose profits over people. Of course, it's not that we've never seen films about David fighting Goliath with David occasionally even winning. From Erin Brockovich to some of Michael Moore's work to others, the little guy fighting back makes for good storytelling and good cinema.
And we love to see the big boys lose - Big pharma? Politicians? Oil companies? The companies often considered "too big to fail?"
We love to see em' fail.
While The Golden Rule is an engaging film, Stone concerns herself less with entertaining the masses and more with telling a story that needs to be told. The fact that Ed Asner is involved here and Michael Moore is nowhere to be found says everything.
Ed Asner don't play.
The Golden Rule explores the impact when corporate profit is more of a concern than the welfare of people. Regulatory capture has resulted in innocent men, women, and children facing devastating health issues and Stone isn't afraid of calling out the guilty players are shining an awfully bright light on them. In The Golden Rule, the "little guys" include a professor, a mom, and a host of other ordinary citizens turned community activists who fight for answers and who occasionally get astounding results.
The film is centered around the Santa Susana Field Lab in Simi Valley, California, an area it notes experienced a nuclear meltdown that was covered up for 20 years. The Golden Rule explores the local landscape and the beauty of this region while also vividly documenting the perpetual toxicity of this meltdown and its devastating impact on families. The Golden Rule weaves into its tapestry other similar "accidents," some openly acknowledged and some not. The film also explores the stories of those impacted, from local activists and officials to residents suffering strange cancers and disabling health conditions that have often been dismissed or explained away both medical professionals and local officials either ignorant, abusive, or both.
The Golden Rule is a thought-provoking and jarring film, a film that benefits from lensing by Stone and Brian First and an immersive score from David Raiklen. Ed Asner is an absolute master at narrating just this type of documentary, a fact likely growing not only from his talent as an actor but his passion for environmental issues.
As I sit here wondering about my own life...my own home...my own yard...and the potential impact of potential leak unlikely to be nearly as severe as communities like the Simi Valley area that have been devastated by a nuclear meltdown, I can't help but give myself to a film that practically demands that I do so. The Golden Rule is most certainly such a film.
I've been familiar with the work of Mellen and Stone since their trip to Indy's Heartland International Film Festival for the film The Man Behind 55,000 Dresses. While The Golden Rule may be a very different film, in many ways it's quite similar and it continues to display a rare ability to handle difficult material in a way that engages, educates, challenges, and calls to action.
As I say every single time I watch the latest film from Diane Mellen and Stacey Stone, The Golden Rule is a film that deserves to be seen and a film that practically demands it.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic