Ten years from now, it’s estimated that almost two-billion people will be living in water-scarce areas. In less than half a century, at the current rate of population growth, it is predicted that the world will need to produce 70% more food than it does today, and with more than half the world’s population living in urban areas already, things aren’t looking too good. Maybe this is why Mike Freedman’s Critical Mass should really be listened to. For years now, scientists and environmentalists have been preaching the same message to relatively little avail. For many people, the scientific facts and terms put forth may as well be spoken in a foreign language. Freedman’s documentary gives the everyday man a chance to understand the world’s current situation through a medium which – with the right formula – has the potential to really speak. Critical Mass is an intelligent film about human population and the impact of its growth on our planet – the dangers that overpopulation can have, both physically (through consumption of the world’s limited resources) and psychologically (namely through extreme urbanization).
The film interweaves a fascinating and deeply worrying rat experiment intended to mirror human evolution conducted by Dr John B. Calhoun with the interviews of a range of scientists, academics, writers and activists throughout a number of different countries, stressing the problems, challenges and possible solutions associated with rapid population growth and consumption of food, water and energy. While the viewer observes the bizarre outcome of Calhoun’s experiment, an unbiased, educated and informed idea of earth’s increasingly dire situation is slowly formed in the 100 minutes running time.
The experiment – which makes up a little less than half the film – was conducted from 1958 to 1983, at the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States. It basically involved enclosing a select group of rats into a shared habitat, providing them with an abundance of food and water. In these conditions, they started reproducing at an alarming rate. Over time, a number of remarkable and disturbing parallels between the rodents and modern-day human society and urbanization started to appear. It was in this way that the viewer is put in a position where questions regarding his own behaviour are forced upon him. Combined with a wide variety of scholarly insights forcing viewers to engage and accept the problems that we all have to stand up and face, Freedman’s feature-length really gives a reason to be listened to. What should we do now? Do we change or do we adapt?
Critical Mass screened at the Biografilm Festival this June in Bologna, Italy. It played to a crammed audience of film-enthusiasts and was recognised as an important and much-needed documentary in the eyes of the generation it preaches to. It explores the issues of over-population, urbanization and mass-consumption with skill, intelligence and style. It has the ability to change things around, and it needs to be listened to. Freedman’s effort is an important one, and deserves the world’s attention.
Read also at Unsung Films
Interview: Mike Freedman on Critical Mass (by Theo Alexander)
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