‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch’ is the third in a trilogy of documentaries that explore humanities relationship with the Earth, following on from ‘Manufactured Landscapes’ (2006) and ‘Watermark’ (2013). The film takes us on a journey around the globe to witness various instances where human activity is changing the face of the Earth.
The documentary is set across seven chapters: Extraction, Terraforming, Technofossils, Anthroturbation, Boundary Limits, Climate Change and Extinction. Each chapter moves from country to country, documenting sites that demonstrate each particular term. These sites include Lithium mines in Chile’s Atacama Desert, Oil refineries in Texas, the Gudong Seawall in China and the Batu Bolong Reef in Indonesia.
Amongst the various sites documented, I felt there was one that particularly represented what it means to exist in the Anthropocene age. The Hambach coal mine is the largest open-pit mine in Germany. This mining site is home to the eight largest excavators currently in existence on Earth. The sheer scale of these industrial monsters—one of which weighs around 12,000 tonnes—is enough to onset anxiety in anyone. Since opening in 1978, four towns have been destroyed to make way for its expansion, with two more currently facing relocation.
The pace of the film is different from other environmental documentaries I have watched. Often, environmental documentaries emanate a sense of urgency. This is achieved through reams of dramatic footage accompanied by rally cries from relevant experts, who insist on change immediately. However, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is slightly different.
There are no screaming cries for change or experts warning us time and time again of the dangers we face. Rather, each shot is given time to reside on the screen, with very little dialogue throughout. This slowness offers lots of time for introspective thought, which is prompted by shots of mind-blowing landscapes and human-made environments. The silence at times is deafening, as you are are left to ponder one extraordinary scene after another. The narration (by Alicia Vikander) is softly spoken and purely factual, allowing the viewer to come to their own—often grim—conclusions.
The film itself exists as part of a larger project: The Anthropocene Project. The project is a collaboration between Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal, and it’s body of work covers various sectors including art, film, virtual reality, augmented reality, and scientific research. All of which are in the hope of further documenting and investigating human impact on the Earth.