(Updated 5/24/18 8:26 am)
Academy awardwinner Jeff Bridges opens “Living in the Future’s Past,” the new environmental documentary he both narrates and helped produce, with, “This earth was here before us, and it will be here long after we’re gone.” It’s a simple concept — spoken in a voice reminiscent of the Dude, his “Big Lebowski” character — that sets the tone for the rest of this visually appealing film, one that reminds us of the obvious while at the same time reassuring us that we can reimagine the future. “Living in the Future’s Past” plays Thursday, May 24, at 7:30 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center as part of the weekend’s 2018 Martha’s Vineyard Environmental Film Festival. Director Susan Kucera will join filmgoers after the screening via SKYPE for a Q & A with the audience.
Unlike other documentaries that rely on scary scenes of devastating destruction to draw attention to issues like global warming and food insecurity, “Living in the Future’s Past” digs deeper, exploring evolution, cultural change, and telling us that man’s unprecedented ability to adapt can help us build a better future.
The film incorporates opinions from environmental experts, along with people like retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; and former Republican congressman from South Carolina Bob Inglis. Well-known psychologists, physicists, anthropologists, philosophers, and even a neuroscientist weigh in on how we got to where we are today. They talk about human behavior and animal behavior, pointing out the similarities — ant farms and beehives function in much the same way as early human agricultural production did. But technology impacts the simplicity of how we humans move food from point A to point B.
The documentary asks us to think about what happens after we push a computer key to order something online, which then magically appears on our doorstep. It asks us to look at what goes into making the things that we think we need. How was it transported? What was its footprint? Where did it come from? How was it made, and who made it? The film takes a word that’s bantered around all the time, “mindfulness,” and asks us to apply it to the consumer goods we buy.
The documentary even explains why we think we can’t live without all those readily available material possessions, saying that it’s in our DNA to copy those around us. Just like the buck who has the biggest set of antlers or the lion who’s the strongest in the pride, humans strive to be the biggest and the best, drive the fastest car, buy the biggest house. And, it tells us, if we don’t fit into our culture, we don’t survive very well.
“It took Jeff and I two years to get it the way we want it,” the film’s director, Susan Kucera, told The Times last week. Besides directing, Kucera was also the cinematographer, which explains the sweeping views of fields of grain, waterfalls, and ice floes along with pumping smokestacks and roadways congested with traffic.
“The imagery came out of my camera, and I connected the whole thing together. Jeff and I worked together on the vision process. We looked at other environmental films, and imagined how to lay it out in a way that invited the audience to think.”
All that energy we use getting excited about the next great thing we want to buy or use could be transferred to a different version of excitement, the film impresses upon the viewer.
“It’s more about getting turned on by different things that can also excite the brain,” Kucera said. “You can get really excited about how you’re doing things, being extremely aware of the energy it took to get that thing you wanted.”
Another refreshing aspect of “Living in the Future’s Past” was that there was no shaming the other side, no “my method of saving the planet is better than yours.” The experts in the film aren’t pitted against anyone or anything else; they merely present a new way of looking at things.
“We create our own realities,” Kucera said. “Wanting to be part of a group is normal and natural, and we shouldn’t berate each other for having these natural tendencies.”
In the film Dr. Leonard Mlodinow, a physicist and author of “The Upright Thinkers,” talks about how the human brain is elastic. “We are not just reactionary creatures. We are able to adapt and change, and do it quickly,” Kucera said. “Some of the greatest discoveries in all fields look so simple in hindsight, but it took that cognitive shift to get the scientists there.”
This film helps us understand how we got to global warming and our reliance on fossil fuels. It tells us we can rethink our relationship with material goods and the environment, and reminds us that we can do better right here, right now.
“The film takes a different angle and points out that even if it seems like the environment is something too big for any one person to have an impact, there is something we all can do,” Bridges wrote in an email. “I’m excited to share ‘Living in the Future’s Past’ with the M.V. Film Festival, and hope that attendees will see that they too can make an impact.”
“Living in the Future’s Past” screens at the M.V. Film Center on Thursday, May 24, at 7:30 pm, preceded by an opening reception with live jazz by David Hannon.