“Downsizing”: Go get small

Downsizing”, directed and written by Alexander Payne (with Jim Taylor) seems like a modern telling of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, at least the Lilliputian part, with the same purpose, to poke fun at the way our political systems neglect global problems.

Some time soon a scientist in Norway discovers a way to “downsize” almost any organism by a mass of about 2500:1 with a single injection and heat chamber treatment. Soon companies are offering it to people with enough money, and setting aside “model train” communities around the world, somewhat hidden or perhaps “Under the Dome”, or perhaps like The Truman Show. It’s a way to save the planet from overpopulation (although the film doesn’t mention the whole problem of “the right babies” going along with population demographics).

Matt Damon plays an occupational therapist Paul Safranek working in Omaha.  He has lost out on the chance to go to medical school because he had to care for his mother. One day he and his wife see a former boss (Jason Sudeikis) like a doll on a table, and Paul asked why did you “go get small.” Pretty soon Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) visit Leisureland in New Mexico (having seen the small people in a box on the flight down) and take the sales pitch. They can live like millionaires.

Paul takes the bait.  The scenes tracing the medical “downsizings” are scary enough.  Paul’s body hair is removed as well as the usual Army buzz cut, and his teeth are pulled.  The actual downsizing chamber part takes only a few minutes.  Paul wakes up, bald everywhere like a chemo patient and checks his private parts.  Then he gets dental implants with microteeth (because they don’t shrink and could cause his head to explode).  I’ve had implants myself, and companies like Clear Choice must be laughing at this.  Then Paul finds out that Audrey bailed out of the procedure and wants to divorce him.

The hair grows back, fortunately. A year later, after downsizing to an apartment on Leisureland and starting to date single moms, and after hearing about the political consequences of downsizing in the media, specifically the surreptitious trafficking of downsized immigrants (despite travel bans!) Paul finds out, from a housekeeper (Ngoc Lan Tran) that immigrants like her live in “barrios” for downsized undocumented immigrants.

As with his mom, Paul is very susceptible to moral pressure to give direct service to those in need, and finds himself as a “doctor” working in the barrio. Then the movie takes a turn to Norway, as a neighbor (Christoph Waltz) takes Paul on a trip to Norway to see the original colony.

And here comes the other political consequence: the Earth has reached its tipping point with the chain release of methane gas, so the little people in Norway have set up a “Noah’s arc” underground. Indeed, will the “normal people” become “the Leftovers”?

I did go through my own downsizing in a real estate sense, from inherited house to condo, recently. And I had full dental implants in 2013.  I have yet to undergo a forced shaving.

Also, ponder the fact that certain big cats underwent downsizing thousands of years ago and became the domestic cats, one of the planets most successful mammals. Sometimes it pays to “go small”.

There was a short film with another Marriott “Storybooked” artist, this time sculptor Felix Semper, who visits San Sebastian, Spain (I visited it in 2001), in the Basque area, and then Barcelona, which is dealing with a new Catalan separatist vote today.

La Concha Bay in San Sebastian (wiki).

Name:  “Downsizing”
Director, writer:  Alexander Payne
Released:  2017/12/21
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/22
Length:  135
Rating:  R
Companies:  Paramount (independent)
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, December 22, 2017 at 11:15 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)

“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)

“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)

“Before the Flood”: Leonardo DiCaprio narrates NatGeo documentary about climate change


Name: “Before the Flood”
Director, writer:  Fisher Stevens, with Leonardo DiCaprio
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  YouTube 2016/11/4
Length 95
Rating G
Companies: Ratpac Docs, National Geographic
Link: official

Friday, Ellen De Generes hosted Leonardo DiCaprio, who introduced the new National Geographic documentary that he narrates, “Before the Flood”, presenting the latest case for meeting climate change.

The film (directed by Fisher Stevens) is available free on YouTube until Sunday, after which it is the National Geographic Channel.

The opening sequence shows an animation of an Indian mural about the creation story, where, after the first Flood and then eons of civilization, the Earth goes dark and eventually is in ruins, looking like Mordor.

The film produces spectacular cinematography all over the world, with the most striking shots probably the aerials of the oil shale mines in Alberta, as the film makes its well-known points about fossil fuels.

The film focuses on low-lying island nations like Kiribati  and on far flung coastal cities like (Patagonia) Argentina’s Ushuaia

The filmmakers visit the melting ice caps at the North Pole, and show the “sunny day flooding” in south Florida.

The film does get to the subject of consumer behavior, such as buying so many everyday products that use palm oil.  It also argues for a “voluntary carbon tax”.

(Posted: Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 at 11 AM EDT)

“When Two Worlds Collide”: In Bagua, Peru, indigenous peoples protest mining and logging, and government cracks down

Name: When Two Worlds Collide
Director, writer:  Heidi Brandenberg, Mathew Orzel
Released:  2016
Format:  1.66:1 video of varying quality (amateur to HD; some protest scenes of low quality)
When and how viewed:  AFI Docs, 2016/6/26 at Landmark E Street, sold out,  unusually enthusisastic audience
Length 103
Rating NA (PG-13?)
Companies: Yachaywasi, Cinereach,. Tribeca
Link: Tribeca

When Two Worlds Collide” (2015), directed by Heidi Brandenberg and Mathew Orzel, somewhat lengthy, gives us a lot of grainy video footage of the indigenous peoples’ 2009 protests against mining and logging companies in their area near Bagua, in the Amazon valley and mountain foothills of eastern Peru.

A number of policemen die in the protests, and then the Peruvian government launches aggressive prosecutions against the organizers of the protests.  One of the protest leaders actually gets asylum in Nicaragua for a while.  Bureaucrats in the government claim that 400,000 native people don’t have the right to stop progress and higher living standards for 30 million newcomers (in large part European).

Toward the end, the film shows a lot of high-definition footage of how the area looks today, with huge areas deforested into ugly logging camps, and various areas of strip-mined hills with lots of rogue toxic waste.  (But the environmental damage from open-pit mining gets worse higher in the Andes.)   The actual picture quality improves considerably (to normal film standards) in the late scenes, compare to the protest scenes, where apparently high definition was not available. The film has a slightly reduced aspect ratio.

Lima (usually in perpetual cloudiness) looks modern and prosperous compared to the rural Bagua region.

The film was shown in the largest auditorium at Landmark during the AFI-Docs, and was nearly sold out noon Sunday, with an engaged (partly Hispanic) audience, with lots of QA.

Clips from the QA:






Picture of Bagua scenery: By D. Raiser – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=772940

(Posted: Monday, June 27, 2016 at 11:45 AM EDT)

“Time to Choose”: visually stunning world tour on climate change


Name: Time to Choose
Director, writer:  Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck
Released:  2015
Format:  2:35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, Washington DC, 2016/6/3
Companies: Abramorama, Representational Pictures
Link: official site

Time to Choose: Climate Change for Good”, by Chad Ferguson and narrated by Oscar Isaac, is the most visually spectacular film on climate change yet, filmed wide screen in remote, impoverished parts of the world.  Indeed, it gives the audience a chance to make a 97-minute trip that would not be possible for most people in person.

The film maintains that to prevent cataclysmic climate change, two-thirds of the planet’s fossil fuels need to stay in the ground forever.

The film is in three parts, focusing on coal, oil, and clearing of forests for mega-agriculture.


The coal part starts immediately with mountaintop removal, showing the most graphic photos of Kayford Mountain ever shot for audience (the none cannot be seen from public highways).  About 40 miles square of Appalachia is scared by strip mines (not certain if this includes reclaimed land, like around Mt. Storm). Streams down the hills (typically about 300-400 feet of ridge can be removed, and the blasting is shown) are polluted and residents have many more cancers than usual, especially in children. The labor force is captive.


Southern West Virginia is small fry compared to western China, however. The film shows the colors of Shanghai at night, and the air pollution of both Shanghai and Beijing by day.  But the scarred landscapes in the “west” are indeed shocking and alien.  China is the most crucial country of all in switching to renewables, which it is starting to do. The film then switches to Kenya and Bangladesh, where residents without electricity are starting fresh with solar panels.

The second part of the film has one of the most shocking sights in the film, a floating shantytown in the Niger Delta.  The film gets into the politics of blood oil (as in the book by Leif Wenar) in Nigeria, with allusion to social instability and violence (Boko Haram).

The last part of the film explains the growth of mega-agriculture, away from the self-sufficient small farming before WWII – which has meant clearing of lands and the wasteful practice of raising meat (as in the Australian movie “Babe” in 1995). The film visits Brazil, with the clearing of the Amazon and many other areas, with severe water shortages in Sao Paolo. It then visits the peat bogs in Indonesia, with a presentation of corruption that allows illegal clearing of this resource.  The filmmakers did all their photography illegally; in Indonesia, journalists need a license.

The film made the medical case for vegetarianism, even the vegan diet (which Bill Clinton follows), as reducing Type 2 (insulin-resistance) diabetes.  Children did not have Type 2 diabetes much before 1980, but now it is all too common, especially in lower income communities, because of processed food abetted by corporate agriculture.

There was a QA afterwards.

One question barely touched: is turning this around more a top-down issue (ending crony capitalism and corruption) or is it bottom-up, emphasizing personal lifestyle discipline?

The obvious comparison is Al Gore’s 2005 film “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Below is an independent video “Climb Kayford Mountain” with allusion to “The Sound of Music.”

Below is a video “The Devastating Effects of Air Pollution in China.” If I were living in China, I wouldn’t be allowed to post this (unless I got around the filters with TOR).

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Hobet Mine in Boone County, W Va, p.d. photo from NASA.

Below is Shanghai at night, Wikipedia (Mstyslav Chernov) similar to film, under CCSA 3.0.


Last domestic picture is Dominion Power Plant in Mt. Storm, W VA (mine, 2004/8/31)

QA clips:  1  2  3  4

(Published: Friday night, June 3, 11:50 PM EDT)