The release of the global warming documentary “Living in the Future’s Past” this week couldn’t be more timely.
On Monday, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a dire report saying that the world only has a dozen years or so to limit global warming to a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase, or face significantly greater risks of drought, poverty, fire and floods for hundreds of millions of people.
But “Living in the Future’s Past,” directed by Susan Kucera and produced by Jeff Bridges, isn’t intend to respond to the science. It’s intended to respond to the reaction that such harsh warnings are often met with by the general public. After Monday’s news broke, my Twitter feed was full of hopelessness, despair and black humor along the lines of, “We’ll all be dead in 20 years, so why should I shave my legs?”
“Living in the Future’s Past” wants to change that thinking (although your legs are your own business). Kucera has assembled a wide range of thinkers, from politicians to environmental scientists to cultural anthropologists. Their collective message is that what the world needs is not to just use less fossil fuel, but to embark on a massive realignment of its priorities, away from a culture of consumption and excess and toward one of responsibility and long-term planning.
The title “Living in the Future’s Past” may seem like a bit of a New Age head-scratcher, but the idea is pretty simple, to stop thinking only of the present moment. What we do today determines what tomorrow will look like, just like what we did yesterday determined what today looks like.
The good news is that we’ve made those kinds of massive shifts before, as civilization has moved from different economic models, from hunting to agriculture, from agriculture to industrialization. If the message of the documentary isn’t exactly sunny, it’s determinedly non-pessimistic, emphasizing our adaptability as a species.
Kucera casts such a wide net in her interview subjects that at times “Future’s Past” wanders down blind alleys and digressions that don’t seem to connect back to the main thesis. As a journalist, I understand the temptation, but sometimes the juiciest quote is too irrelevant to work into the story.
Bridges is a constant presence in the film, which starts with a shot of him looking pensive on a mountain top, and features regular voiceover narration from him that attempts to tie together the quotes we’ve just heard. The film isn’t just produced by Bridges, it’s anointed by him.
In between the interviews are a lots of evocative photography of cities and glaciers and the like, most of it shot all over the world by Kucera. The nice thing about making a movie about the planet is pretty much every image you can find is fair game.
For all its digressions and unfocused patches, “Living in the Future’s Past” coalesces around an earnest and resonant message, especially as Bridges’ gravelly voice urges us to do more than just “scratch the guilt itch” and make sustainable changes that feel authentic to our lives. It’s not too late, the film argues, unless we’ve convinced ourselves it already is.
Correction: An earlier version of this review stated that the photography in the film is stock footage. Most of it is original footage.