“Trophy”: the sad story of Cecil the Lion is only a little of it

Trophy”, directed by Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, from The Orchard, aired on CNN Films Sunday night January 14, and treated us to breathtaking African safari scenery.

It also presented self-serving rationalizations of poachers and commercial hunters in Africa.

There is a basic argument that killing wild animals makes the native villagers safer.  There is the more sophisticated argument that if you limit legal hunting of animals, the illegal poaching will go up. That sounds a little like legalizing drugs, where libertarian arguments seem to make sense.  Much of the film shows a commercial auctioneer and land manager (John Hume) who says he is protecting animals from illegal poaching, but he will stay in business only as long as he makes money. At the end, the film tells us that Hume has won his case.

There is also a “religious” argument about man’s dominion over the animals (and the speaker denies evolution).

The film opens focusing on rhinoceros tusks, and soon move to elephants, where the world population has shrunk by orders of magnitude.

During the last part of the film, the sad story of the 2015 “accidental” killing of Cecil the Lion, by a Minnesota dentist, is covered.

Name: “Trophy”
Director, writer:  Christina Chusiau, Shaul Schwarz
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  CNN, 2018/1/14
Length:  108
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  The Orchard, CNN Films
Link:  CNN 

(Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 11:30 PM EST)

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”: Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth” about climate change premiers at AFI-Docs

Last night, AFI-Docs premiered Al Gore’s new film, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” at the Newseum in Washington DC, with director (Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk) QA.  The film amounts to being “An Inconvenient Truth II”, following Gore’s first film on climate change in 2005.

Gore starts his film in Greenland, with spectacular shots of melting ice, before moving around the world and showing evidence of rapid escalation of climate change.  He stops in Miami, where there is sunny day street flooding at high tides. Warmer and more humid atmosphere promulgates more extreme storms and, ironically, droughts.  He shows Hurricane Sandy in 2012 in New York City (confirming a prediction from his 2005 film that the World Trade Center site from 9/11 could flood), and a typhoon in the southern Philippines in November 2013, which might have interfered with the production of my third book (the POD publisher had a plant nearby). He mentions how high temperatures shorten mosquito breeding cycles and might have contributed to the spread of Zika.

He also brings back his charts from the 2005 film, and adds illustrations showing that the number of very warm days constantly increases (even though we have cold days).  It is inevitable that if carbon dioxide levels rise, the planet will warm, unless something else happens (like a volcanic eruption blotting out the Sun with cloud cover).

Gore provides plenty of evidence that green industries are economically sustainable.  He notes anecdotes like that of Greensburg, KS, wiped out by a 2007 tornado, that rebuilt itself green (story), as in the 2009 Planet Green film, “Greensburg: a Story of Community Rebuilding” with Leonardo DiCaprio.

He also summarizes his personal history, his concession in Bush v. Gore in 2000, and then notes Bush’s actions which reduced satellite information gathering on climate issues by NASA, as well as catering to fossil fuel interests, anticipating Trump today.

His most startling ideas are that the drought in Syria starting around 2010 helped set up the urban refugees that set up the brutality of Assad and ISIS.  Then the film moves to Paris, just before the meetings at the end of 2015, as Gore is present for the Nov. 13 terror attacks, the aftermath of which is shown.

The film covers Al Gore’s “Climate Reality Leadership Corps”, which he calls “Truth in Ten”.  People can join this as a movement, be trained, and participate in a formal process.  My problem is that I like to retain my ability to speak independently, as I said in the QA. There is a hashtag “#Pledgetobeinconvenient”.

Another audience member pointed out the problem of tribalism:  many people won’t listen to rational arguments of they are made by someone from the wrong side – as we saw with the 2016 elections and the vitriolic personal divisions and odd forms of hyper partisanship.



2  (my question on joining a group vs. working alone on an issue like this)

3  (question about tribalism — “truth to power”)

Fact sheet:

Name: “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”
Director, writer:  Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk, Al Gore
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1 (as shown;  imdb says 2.35:1)
When and how viewed:  AFI Docs, Newseum, 2017/6/16, Washington DC, almost sold out;  general release 2017/7/28
Length:  100
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Paramount Independent;  Kino Lorber; Participant Media
Link:  Al Gore, Film

Picture: Far Rockaway, NY, March 2013, my trip after Hurricane Sandy

(Posted: Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

“Mosquito”, to be aired on Discovery, premiers at AFI-Doc in Washington

Mosquito”, directed by Su Rynard and written by Mark Monroe. will air on the Discovery Channel (Impact) starting July 6, but had a world premiere at the Newseum tonight in Washington DC as part of ADI Docs.

The 70-minute film presents the coming world health crisis from the explosive growth of mosquitoes in new areas, partly because of climate change.   For example, some species are spreading on high plateaus in Africa because it no longer gets cold enough to stop them.

It seems that Zika may have been endemic in Africa for years, but infected young girls and left them immune before pregnancy.  But it may have come to Brazil on ships or travel, and been introduced to Recife, Brazil, often shown in the film, at the end of 2014 for a sporting event.  The film shows women being tested in utero for potential mico encaphaly of their babies.  It is not known if babies born with normal head dimensions to Zika infected mothers will develop normally.

The film covers many of the diseases spread by mosquitoes, including dengue and West Nile Virus, which infected a woman on Long Island in 2015.  It also covers the gradual spread of more species north into the US, in sheltered areas like the Metro.

The film diagrams the mechanics of the mosquito bite, and how it cuts a channel in the skin for its blood meal and source of proteins.

The film pays particular attention to malaria in children.  Bill Gates appears and addresses this problem.  I once had a roommate in graduate school at KU who said he had gotten it in the Peace Corps and was told he should never live in a warm climate (without a seasonal winter).

The film, as well as the panel, shows the difficulties of mosquito control without affecting the balance of other species.  There was talk about community cooperation, where one person can affect the success of a whole effort (and health officials break down doors).  But modern methods emphasize surgical methods, like introducing a genetically engineered male whose offspring are born dead so the eggs cannot hatch, a kind of “Children on Men” solution.

There is a normal mosquito population in most areas, especially northern latitudes.  It is invasive species, moving north with transportation and warming climate, that destroy the balance and introduce new diseases.

In the 1980s, I recall that the religious right wanted to speculated what would happen if AIDS were to be spread by mosquitoes.  In fact, for a while, before HIV was discovered, there were rumors that it could becaused by another arbovirus, African Swine Fever, which would have been disastrous in implications politically.

It would be possible to argue that, since Zika is sometimes sexually transmitted, adults could be unwittingly infecting unborn children through a chain letter.  But the real problem is to control the mosquitoes.

Recife picture (wiki).

Kenya picture (wiki).

QA Video





Fact Table

Name: “Mosquito”
Director, writer:  Su Rynard, Mark Monroe
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Newseum, AFI-Docs, 2017/6/15, near sellout
Length:  71
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Discovery Impact
Link:  Discovery, AFI

(Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Tomorrow”: climate change is a starting point for an examination of sustainability in terms of living locally

Tomorrow“, written by Cyril Dion and directed with Melanie Laurent, starts with climate change and gives a five-part prescription for the sustainability of civilization, grounded ultimately in personal morality.

The keep concept is locality of living and personal interaction.  All economic growth is multifocal.

The film comprises five parts.  It starts with Urban Farming, showing people raising their own produce in the ruins of Detroit, before moving to France and England.  The film also argue against big agri-business and shows briefly some of the horrors of poultry plants and feed lots (like the 1995 Australian satire movie “Babe” about the precocious piglet). The film also showed local agriculture on Reunion Island (France) in the Indian Ocean. The film was critical even of our use of grains in our diet, since they make processed foods easier to consumer.

Part 2, Energy, is more predictable, summarizing renewable energy, particularly in Iceland and Denmark. It also shows us how ugly the tar sands in Alberta look.

Part 3, Economics, gets interesting.  The film proposes the idea of local currencies, rather like Monopoly money.  It explains that with a global euro or dollar reserve currency system, it is too easy for banks to invent money by loaning it for interest. Financial crises like 2008 become inevitable. The film might gave gotten into the subject of micro-lending or kiva here.

But this section of the film makes a strong moral case for local businesses, as generating many more jobs in proportion to their customer bases, than Internet based global retail operations.  For a writer and blogger like me, this proposes interesting challenges, like why am I not more supportive of printed books and local bookstores.  Letting Amazon do it for you is too complacent.   I do buy food at farmers’ markets, and I do visit a locally owned supermarket and tavern (the Westover Market in Arlington VA) a lot as well as bug chains.  Consumers (like me) doing so would help a bit with job creation.

This section of the film seems to argue against globalization, feeding into the “Brexit” or “America First” idea of Donald Trump (although the film was shot before these events). The film would want everyone to like in an intentional community!

Part 4, Democracy, proposes the radical idea of choosing legislators by drawing lots.  Apparently this was done after the meltdown in Iceland in 2009. There is such a proposal for choosing the Senate in Belgium.  There is also a presentation of a social experiment in India where “untouchable” castes form extended family units with the better off families.

Despite the anti-globalization view of the film, this section tends to argue that people of different races, religions, social classes or even gender roles should be able to live together and transact with one another locally.

Part 5, Education, gives a look at the education system in Finland.

Name:  “Tomorrow”
Director, writer:  Cyril Dion
Released:  2015
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Filmfest DC, Landmark E St, 2017/4/25, small auditorium, nearly full
Length:  120
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Mars, Sundance Selects
Link:  official (France)

(Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at 12:30 AM EDT)

“Seed: The Untold Story”: a civilization restart could depend on botanical diversity

Seed: The Untold Story”, by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, documents the activities of seed archivists, who aim to preserve samples of natural seed stock that is being lost by mega-agriculture.

The film starts in Maine, with an elderly man who sees himself as a kind of Noah, maintaining his own seed bank as a personal (and individually controlled) legacy for the world.  It then, with some animation, gives some history of activities by civilizations to preserve their seed genetic bases, including a “civilization restart” bank in northern Norway.  Destroying seed banks has been an aim of military campaigns, as the Soviet Union maintained one around St. Petersburg during WWII.  The film also shows major conservation activities in New Mexico and Kauai, Hawaii.

It was eye-opening for me that the loss of genetic diversity among our plant food supply could threaten civilization itself.

With Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Jane Goodall, Winona LaDuke, and Raj Patel.

I remember those essay botany tests in undergraduate college (around 1965) all too well.

The film (from Collective Eye) was shown on PBS Independent Cuts on April 17, 2017; the original length of 94 minutes was cut to about 53;  I would rather see PBS offer a 90-minute slot and show the entire original film.

Name: “Seed: The Untold Story”
Director, writer:  Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel
Released:  2016
Format:  HD video
When and how viewed:  PBS Independent Lens, 2017/4/17 at 10 PM
Length:  94/56
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Collective Eye, PBS Independent Cuts
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, April 17, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“24 Snow”: visually stunning documentary traces the life of a Siberian horse farmer

Mikhail Barynin was in person for the QA for his stunning wilderness documentary “24 Snow” (produced by Egor Makarov), at the SC Environmental Film Festival, presented in partnership with Moscow’s ECOCUP.  He spoke only Russian, and a woman translated for him, before a full house at the Carnegie Science Center today.

The film introduces its hero, Sergei, in a remote wildnerness camp with just two wooden cabins, everything weighted with snow, and a temperature of -60 C.  We learn he breeds horses for a living, and spends a lot of time away from his family, like a nomad, occasionally visiting Siberian villages.

The dialogue is in Yakut, and the scenario is in the Sakha (northeastern Siberia).  The digital photography presents almost extraterrestrial scenery, with mountain ridges that look metallic in color and large lakes and rivers with flowing ice.  The ruins of smaller Soviet industrialized towns appear.  But there are festivals, and tents set up for kids to play in.  The cramped life within cabins and yurts is shown.  In the countryside, people do not have electricity

Toward the end there is a disturbing scene where Sergei has to kill some of his horses.

Vladimir Putin has provided economic inducements, including free land, to people who will settle Siberia and live off the land and have big families.  One of the biggest motivations for the 2013 anti-gay propaganda law was the idea that speech making homosexuality sound acceptable would further depress Russia’s birth rate.  Putin has even called for “procreation days”.


1 (director, in Russian)


3  (about journalism in Russia)

4  (climate change issue in Russia)

Amga River, typical scenery, Wiki.

Name:  “24 Snow”
Director, writer:  Mikhail Barynin
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1   (Yakut)
When and how viewed: 2017/3/19  DC Environmental Film Festival at Carnegie Institute of Science, full crowd
Length:  93
Rating:  NA
Companies:  ECOCUP
Link:  Facebook, UN

(Posted: Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 10 PM EDT)

“Spillover: Zika, Ebola and Beyond” looks at the peril of pandemics spread from animals to man

Spillover: Zika, Ebola, and Beyond” (57 min) , written and directed by James Barrat (and produced by Tangled Bank Studios), accounts for the histories of three dangerous zoonoses, that is, (viral) infectious diseases that move from animals to people.  The film was shown by the DC Environmental Film Festival at the Carnegie Institute of Science and was followed by a free sandwich reception.

The overall message of the film is that viruses can spread suddenly from animals (usually mammals but sometimes birds) to man and create devastating pandemics among humans not immunologically prepared for them.

The film focuses specifically on Zika (especially in Brazil), Ebola (West Africa), and Nipah (Bangladesh). The film has spectacular digital on location photography of many remote locations, some of it aerial from drones (including many slums and poor or primitive neighborhoods), and along with some very realistic rotoscopic animation.  This could have made good material for an Imax science film at the Smithsonian.

The narrative starts in Recife, Brazil, in 2015, as mild flu-like cases of Zika show up in young adults.  Soon people realize that babies from infected women are being born with microcephaly, with brains that will not develop normally.  In time authorities learn mosquito control, even infiltrating areas with poisoned males who will cause infertile offspring to be born.   Since Zika can be sexually transmitted, it theoretically could bring back some personal ethical and political conflicts that we saw in the 1980s with HIV, as I asked in the QA (previous discussion).

The movie also switches to West Africa,, mainly Sierra Leone, showing the impact of Ebola, and noting that of the 11000 fatalities in Africa, 900 were with caregivers and health care workers, exposed directly to body fluids hitting compromised skin.  One young man walks three miles to the hospital to avoid infecting people on the bus, and survives.  A female nurse survives.  But many are buried. One person is taken off a plane in Lagos, Nigeria (shown well by drone), and dies.  Very vigorous contact tracing in Nigeria prevents the epidemic from spreading.

The film mentions new vaccines for both of these diseases.  But it also says that contact tracing is essential to control epidemics.  That sounds unrealistic to me in practice – forcing people to maintain “social distance”.  The film does not get into the cases of people treated in the U,S., which there is much better chance of survival with supportive care.  Most deaths occur from body fluid loss and subsequent organ failure.

The recent epidemic in West Africa may come from a single case of a child eating the carcass of a particular wild animal.

The film also looks at Nipah, which surfaced in Bangaldesh in 1998 and then 2004.  It causes an encephalitis that can have a high mortality rate and lead to mental retardation in children.  The reservoir may be fruit bats who feed on date palms (there is a scene of workers “shaving” palm trees with machetes to get to the sap).

Sierra Leone road similar to film.

Lagos, Nigeria

Recife, Brazil.



1       (note that H7N9 bird flu in China has increased in recent months).

2  — my question on the politics of contagion

3  — Trump budget cuts

Fact sheet:

Name: “Spillover: Zika, Ebola and Beyond”
Director, writer:  James Barrat
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1  HDEF
When and how viewed:  DC Environmental Film Festival, Carnegie Auditorium, Washington, free, 2017/3/18, free, full, reception followed
Length:  57
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS, Tangled Bank Studios
Link:  PBS  official (July 2016)





(Posted: Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

“Voices of Chernobyl”: Supplications from the family members of victims of the 1986 nuclear power plant catastrophe in the Ukraine

The documentary “Voices of Chernobyl” (2016, “La supplication”, or “The Prayer”), by Pol Cruchten, is actually based on a “novel” by Svetlana Alexievich)

But the presentation of the film is rather simple.  A number of people, especially family members of the Chernobyl nuclear plant workers and rescue personnel, stand in the ruins, or sometimes in the early springtime river, plains and forest country of northern Ukraine, and give testimonials to their personal losses.  Often the victims (mostly men) are shown, lying still, clothed.  The horrific symptoms of radiation poisoning are described verbally, but the men are usually left intact visually.  Some of the victims are children born about the time of the disaster who then develop leukemias.

The speakers (in French, with subtitles – the country of origin is Luxembourg) mention the upwind damage in other countries, most of all Belarus, where many abortions would then be performed.

Toward the end, a few women gardeners, indeed “The Babushkas of Chernobyl” (index) appear, working the soil fearlessly.

The actual “accident” led immediately, according to Wikipedia, to 31 deaths, but many more must have occurred gradually.

The film was shown at the DC Environmental Film Festival on March 16 at the Ring Auditorium in the Hirshhorn Smithsonian Museum (where I had seen  the “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition one week before).  The DCEFF program gives the title as “Voices from Chernobyl” as do some trailers; But imdb uses the preposition “of”.

Wikipedia coverage of Chernobyl disaster, many pictures including sarcophagus.

I remember the newspaper coverage of the Three Mile Island disaster in March 1979, when I was living in Dallas;  for a while a melt-down was feared.  When I worked with Dan Fry’s group “Understanding” from 1975 to 1979, I met a woman, in New York City, who wanted to start a national caravan to oppose nuclear power.  She was a one-issue person.

However, young inventor Taylor Wilson has argued that small underground fission plants for many utilities could make the power grids safer (from solar storms or EMP) by reducing the dependence on large transformers.  Taylor has actually written an article about Fukushima in 2011.  His work (in a book “The Boy Who Played with Fusion” — index) deserves a documentary film now.

Name: “Voices of Chernobyl”
Director, writer:  Pol Cruchten
Released:  2016
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed: Ring Auditorium, Hirshhorn, DCEFF, free, 2017/3/16, large audience (a lot of it young)
Length:  87
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Red Lion
Link:  film

(Posted: Friday, March 17, 2017 at 10:45 AM EDT)

“Dream Big: Engineering Our World”: outstanding young female engineers make wonders for professional tourists

As it gets more taxing and risky to travel around the world, IMAX 3-D documentary films offer a surrogate opportunity.

Dream Big: Engineering Our World”, directed by Greg MacGillivray and produced by his own film company, now shows in Imax science museum theaters, and it offers in its 42 minutes a large number of sightseeing opportunity, a chance to play professional tourist.

The narrative (spoken by Jeff Bridges) is seen largely through the lives of female minority engineering students, and their teachers.

The attractions include the Burj  Khalifa Dubai, the Shanghai Tower (with its twists to make it storm resistant), a rail bridge in southern France, an earthquake resistant skyscraper in San Francisco, the University of California Santa Barbara campus (which I visited in 2002 in connection with my books), rural Haiti, and a temple area in Katmandu, Nepal during an earthquake.  (Katmandu is said to have inspired the fictitious city L’Himby in the Third Dominion in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica”.)    There is a desert prototype for a 700mph maglev train, and stunning subway sequence in the opening (I think in Tokyo).

There is an interesting “middle section” explaining the construction of the Great Wall of China (using rice-based mortar) which runs along the top of a ridge.  I have not seen “The Great Wall” yet, but the mention of the Wall is here is politically coincidental, to say the least.  Yes, I would have used Asian cast and leads in making the big budget monster movie (for authenticity).  And I think that Donald Trump’s idea of a Great Wall poses more an issue of actual practical effectiveness than engineering (or ideology).

There is a climactic science fair scene (at UCSB), after high school engineers drive their solar-powered jalopies through the Australian outback (starting at Darwin and going to Adelaide).  I thought it would have been nice to cover the inventions of Taylor Wilson (fusion nuclear reactor) or Jack Andraka (new cancer test).

The film was financed in part by Bechtel Corporation, which was on my list of possible first employers back in 1970 when I was getting out of the Army.

Name:  “Dream Big: Engineering Our World
Director, writer:  Greg MacGillivray
Released:  2017
Format:  IMAX 3-D  1.44:1
When and how viewed:  Smithsonian Air and Space, 2017/3/2, morning, small audience
Length:  42
Rating:  G
Companies:  MacGillivray
Link:  Bechtel

(Posted: Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 7:45 PM EST)

“Rachel Carson”: Biography of the conservationist on PBS American Experience

PBS American Experience aired “Rachel Carson”, a biography of the marine biologist and famous author on conservation and environmental issues, directed by Michelle Ferrari.

Carson lived from 1907-1964, to pass away at the end from complications of breast cancer.  During the last years of her life she had a relationship with another women which some say was intimate. But the film documents several times in her life when she had to take care of other family members and raise other relatives’  children.

She started her writing career working for an agency that would become the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In time, she started writing books, often descriptive of marine life, often serialized.  She tried to buttress her own outdoor skills, at one time doing a dive off the Florida coast in 1950s gear (and she had said she was a bad swimmer).   She became concerned about pesticides as they got introduced in the early 1950s.  The chemicals were very effective in eliminating mosquitoes (preventing malaria) and later fire ants (improving crops).  But many birds and mammals died, while the insects became resistant.

Carson wrote laboriously on a typewriter in the pre-computer age.  She edited by hand.  But eventually she produced her most famous book, “Silent Spring”, which became a best seller and caused great consternation in the pesticide industry.  Even President Kennedy mentioned it in August 1962.  She would testify before Congress while ill from radiation treatments for cancer, in a time when NIH was just starting aggressive anti-cancer treatments.  I actually “worked” in the cancer lab while I was a patient in the fall of 1962, part of my own personal history.

Of course, you can become concerned about her arguments today, as we need to eliminate mosquitoes spreading Zika virus.

Wikipedia link for Rachel Carson National Refuge in Maine.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 11:30 PM)