Enviro-friendly and energy-overhaul advocacy documentaries are almost numerous enough to comprise their own labeled video store sub-genre these days, and Carbon Nation, opening at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Los Angeles this week, slots comfortably and unfusssily into this grouping. While thought-provoking on a macro level in some of its interviews, sloppy construction and focus makes for a sludgy viewing experience.
Directed by Peter Byck, the film bills itself as an optimistic, solutions-based, non-partisan nonfiction film, which is true but only half the story. In its aim to be so inclusive and positive-minded, the movie doesn’t put moneyed interests of the status quo in its cross-hairs, or much acknowledge the push-back against climate change/energy advancement legislation or innovation. As such, it comes across as kind of toothless, and existing in a vacuum.
It’s also terribly unfocused. In its own roundabout way, by cheerfully playing up American business ingenuity, Carbon
Nation makes a tripartite case for bold energy innovation, without clamorously depressing the usual keys of moral suasion — it’s good business and will make lots of money; it emboldens national and
energy security; and it improves individual and community health as well as the environment, the movie tells us. The problem is that, as the movie pinballs from solar energy advances to algae studies to stories of electric cars, with little in the way of connective tissue, it fails to use these assertions as a touchstone, and tie them to each topic or field of research.
An eclectic slate of interviewees includes Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, green jobs innovator Van Jones, Earth Day founder Denis Hayes and Bernie Karl, a geothermal
pioneer from Alaska. Most interesting might be Cliff Etheredge, a one-armed West Texas
cotton farmer and entrepreneur pioneering the use of small
landowner wind collectives. But the manner in which Byck sometimes introduces/tags these sources onscreen (former CIA director James Woolsey is revealed to be… a South Park fan?), comes across as curious, an overreaching stab at levity when one isn’t warranted.
Sometimes its facts and estimations are arresting (one billion gallons of fuel per year could be saved, for instance, merely if long-haul truckers were able to achieve utility-level power storage, and turn off their idling trucks while sleeping), but overall Carbon Nation doesn’t pivot its way past being anything more than a scrapbook collection of human-interest stories one might see as the last segment on the network evening news. It’s temperate, rah-rah cheerleading, when the world outside of its carefully manicured parameters feels like it’s calling out for something a bit more. For more information, visit the movie’s website. (Clayway Media, unrated, 82 minutes)