‘8 Billion Angels’ Review: Giving Earth Top Billing

This documentary about climate injustice feels defanged by its unfocused structure.,


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8 Billion Angels
Directed by Victor Velle
1h 16m

“8 Billion Angels” opens with a montage of high-resolution shots of nature: frothy ocean waves, white-blue coral reefs, birds skimming a lake, a tree with a young girl perched on it. When the slow motion begins, and Jane Goodall’s voice-over starts playing over weepy strings, you might wonder if you’re watching an ad or a P.S.A.

With a subject like climate change, one could argue that it’s better that the tale be told imperfectly rather than not at all. Victor Velle’s documentary is certainly noble in its attempt to drive home some of the more abstract aspects of our environmental crisis, such as the global — and unequal — effects of local actions.

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Divided into chapters titled “Oceans,” “Land” and “Air and Rivers,” the film connects the dots between an oyster farm in Maine, a marine research lab in Japan, farmland in the American Midwest and the polluted air and waters of New Delhi, India. Talky, meandering interviews with farmers, academics and activists are paired with images of arid lands and crowded cities.

The unfocused editing somewhat defangs the film’s urgency, but it does give a sense of the scale of the issue and the corporate greed that fuels overconsumption. As Bill Stowe, the C.E.O. of Des Moines Waterworks, notes, agriculture in Iowa primarily supports industrial livestock and ethanol production. It’s not quite “feeding the world” as some might believe.

So the film’s aphorism-packed coda, titled “Solutions,” comes out of left field. Experts suggest that the need of the hour is population control, which is best achieved by educating women and empowering them to plan their families. The paternalistic irony of holding the world’s resource-strapped women responsible for a systemic problem goes unaddressed.

8 Billion Angels
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 16 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.

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