There will be no shortage of noisy apocalyptic movies vying for our attention as 2012 moves along. Surviving Progress is something else entirely — a globe-spanning documentary that carefully addresses difficult questions regarding our long-term prospects for survival. Generally speaking, the news is not good. But don't let that keep you from this thoroughly engrossing film.
Based on Ronald Wright's best-selling book, A Short History of Progress, the film takes us from the Brazilian rainforest to outer space to a chimpanzee research lab in New Iberia, La., all to paint a vivid portrait of a global civilization in mid-crisis. Great minds including writer Margaret Atwood, primatologist Jane Goodall and physics visionary Stephen Hawking come on board to illuminate individual pieces of the puzzle, but it all boils down to one central question: How can we survive any concept of "progress" requiring unlimited economic growth when the world's resources are anything but unlimited? In the words of author Wright, who pops up repeatedly throughout the film, human history is full of "progress traps" — unsustainable behaviors that benefit people in the short term but eventually lead to disaster.
Surviving Progress co-writers and directors Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks take great pains to leave politics out of the film, even as it necessarily shows how longterm debts owed by developing countries to Western banks lead directly to environmental depletion. The film's only real agenda is to nudge us toward acknowledging real-world problems — and reducing our rate of consumption. As Goodall points out at the end of the film, "We humans are a problem-solving species. We do pretty well with our backs against the wall." The word "surviving" is right there in the film's title. — KEN KORMAN
7:30 p.m. Fri.-Thu.
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 352-1150; www.zeitgeistinc.net