Sturla Gunnarsson's Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie is both a marvellous biography of a Canadian icon and an entertaining and enlightening documentary about biodiversity.
Every child in Canada -- and the world -- should be given the opportunity to see it. Then they can bug their stodgy or ignorant or reluctant parents into changing their family's wasteful ways and help to save Planet Earth from further degradation and perhaps even total destruction. Environmentalism begins at home.
But Gunnarsson, like the world-renowned environmentalist and scientist he profiles, realizes that you cannot just say stuff like that -- you have to show it. Force of Nature shows it as beautifully and as forcefully as possible in any single documentary film. It is broader in scope, less alarmist and better balanced and orchestrated than David Guggenheim and Al Gore's influential doc, An Inconvenient Truth. With this balance, Force of Nature is much less likely to be a target of ridicule from nay-sayers -- as An Inconvenient Truth has become for some of its sloppy reportage, which sidetracked people from the validity of its message about climate change.
Force of Nature is also full of inconvenient truths about the deteriorating health of Mother Nature and mankind's responsibility in those processes. But the spirit and tone of the new film is less about panic and more about hope. And a lot more personal.
Gunnarsson's gift is that he recognizes that giving the public a human portrait Suzuki puts the big picture stuff into better focus for the audience. This duality produces an almost giddy feeling, mixed with melancholy for what we recognize as true about the environmental message here.
So the film chronicles Suzuki's life, starting from what was initially a happy Canadian childhood after his birth to Japanese-Canadian parents in Vancouver in 1936. Then came the tortured period when, with his family, he was forced into one of Canada's shameful internment camps during the Second World War. The chronicle continues through the post-war banishment to Ontario, through his education and development as both a scientist and as a broadcaster, through his emergence as an activist, and up to his current twilight years as a doting grandfather and celebrity environmentalist.
Gunnarsson also gives Suzuki, who is an eloquent speaker, a platform to re-explain his whole earth message. One in which he explains in detail how maintaining the integrity of the planet's biodiversity is the key to survival for humans -- and all living things.
The film intercuts the personal episodes with excerpts from a public lecture that Suzuki delivered in the fall of 2009 at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. That sounds easy to do, but it is not. Gunnarsson and his filmmaking team do a splendid job of maintaining a flow. Spend too long on the personal and the lecture would falter. Spend too much time just letting Suzuki talk and the personal picture would fade. Force of Nature does it just right, keeping both sagas alive.
In the end, in our ongoing education from childhood to maturity, it is useful to remember that we all must listen to our elders. The 74-year-old David Suzuki is significant among them.
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