The Tibetan Environmental Society’s showing of the documentary Home takes place at 5.30 pm in an unheated hall 2000 metres above sea level. The majority of the audience are gringos of one description or another. The film is projected onto a large screen, with an introduction given by the society’s Tibetan head.
You might think that this location, not so far from the roof of the world, would be the ideal place to take in the film’s abstract narrative about the fate of the world and the environmental mess homo sapiens has made of it. The movie is made up of edited sequences, filmed from the air. Volcanoes. Elephants on the charge. Fisherman on an African beach. Vast lorries in a hyper-mine. However, in practice, the venue in no way alters the unfortunate juxtaposition the film presents between the terror of its message and the beauty of its images.
When you’re actually within the exploited, impoverished world which the rich 20% is abusing to both fund its lifestyle and abuse the planet, the lush power of cinematic technology can feel faintly offensive. Your mind can’t help but speculate on the costs of hiring helicopters, exec producers salaries, and expense accounts. And even if everyone involved was working for 500 rupees a day, there’s still something jarring about the way in which its expensively graded images are employed, as though the film’s beauty is somehow necessary for its message to be put across to the Western world.
A somewhat preachy American voice, which I later learn belongs to Glen Close, narrates the film’s loose narrative from Genesis to imminent Apocalypse. Perhaps I’d have felt more comfortable if the accent was Malaysian, (say), or had gone for subtitles. However, ultimately, no matter what it was saying, I wanted it to get off its helicopter plinth, go to ground, and actually speak to people.
Travelling opens your eyes to the harshness from which the Western world is so often inured. Pigs rooting through burnt rubbish on the streets, affirming the conjoined crimes of poverty and environmental degradation. Whilst we know its out there, we don’t want to face up to it. Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s beautiful but banal movie seems symptomatic of this attitude.
Outside in the cold air of McLeod Ganj, itself something of an island within India’s teeming sea, the real fight continues on the millions of frontlines which the West is only aware of through news reports and sanitised, graded images on its TV screens.