Sundance 2019: “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch”

Taking four years to complete, “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” comes from the multiple-award-winning team of Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky. The docu rolls with powerful effect, opting to reveal rather than lecture, as actress Alicia Vikander (herself an environmentalist) narrates over chilling yet beautiful images captured at various locations around the world.

The film reveals in implicit detail the damage that mankind has inflicted on the world and how it is now entering a new epoch where human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

A still from Anthropocene – The Human Epoch by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky, an official selection of the Spotlight program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The film opens with apocalyptic leanings as a conflagration of 10,000 elephant tusks piled into an enormous funeral pyres burn up to the skies at Nairobi National Park, ivory seized before reaching the illegal black market.

Jennifer Baichwal, director of Anthropocene – The Human Epoch.

Other highlight include a visit to Norilsk, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle that is home to Russia’s coldest and most polluted industrial city due to heavy-metal smelting; the vast, expansive ponds of disgusting yellow water sitting in the Chilean desert, evaporating in the heat to produce the lithium required to power electric-car batteries; and, the Dandora landfill in Nairobi, a 30 acre site where 850 tons of solid waste is dumped every day by over 3.5 million inhabitants.

Nicholas de Pencier, director of Anthropocene – The Human Epoch.

One of the most notable highlights in the film is that extinction rates are now rising as much as 10,000 times above natural rates. During this segment, Vikander states the extensive list of species on the brink of annihilation including, the Sumatran tiger, okapi, oryx, Egyptian tortoise and northern white rhino.

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” left some in the audience wondering if mankind will survive this new epoch. However, Baichwal expressed a positive note after the screening, stating how “Anthropocene” should become part of our vernacular: “That’s our goal—we want people to understand what the word means, and understand the extent of our impact on the world, and in that understanding is the beginning of mitigation and of sustainability.”

Edward Burtynsky, director of Anthropocene – The Human Epoch.