Green’s Fate

In order to place my commentary and reflection, which is somewhat different from the rest of the panel, I need to set the scene around which I will be working to articulate my discussion. In particular, my comments refer to the ‘film-maker meets audience’ event which capped off the whole of the week of Wildscreen, where the movie, after winning its award, was screened, followed by a short invited commentary of the film-maker on the making of the film and then a question and answer session.

So, for me, as a member of the audience, I was hungry to see the movie that had won the ‘green Oscar’ for the best nature film of the year, ready to hear words of wisdom about the movie from the elusive French film-maker. I was hungry to relax after a long week of Wildscreen event after event, ready to be entertained, ready to find a bit of enjoyment in switching my brain off, and ready to, in the immortal words of one Jamie Lorimer (2010: 245) ‘go with the film, turn down the academic’s instinct to detach, and be swept through the emotional landscape on offer’. And so, be swept along I was in what can only be, to me anyway, described as one of the most emotively generative, tumultuous and connective movie I had ever seen. Indeed, in addition to this growing emotional connection to Green lying there listless on the recovery bed, I was struck very much by an impending and felt sense of dread—the tightening gut, my own sweating palms, my nervous re-positioning in my seat—as the movie progressed: would Green ultimately recover to once again frolic in the wild or would she pay the ultimate price for the growing conflict of rich forests and poor species being played out in this part of the world? But of course as we have all just seen, Green dies the kind of subtle and banal way we see in much of the rest of the death of nature: she is wrapped up in a black plastic rubbish back to be un-ceremonially dumped into a wheelbarrow and carted off to who knows where and the wrecked world goes on.

Or so we are led to believe. Indeed, after the film ended and the film-maker started to talk, he made what to me was a most startling ‘reveal’ about how he constructed the movie: in reality, Green had not died, but had recovered (fate unknown, but alive) and so it was actually the nameless, faceless, subject/object-less oranguatan next door to Green who had died, taking Green’s place as the creature who was wrapped up and carted off. Thus, in the film, we are led to believe that it is Green who has died, when in fact it was her orang-utan neighbour whose dead body and disposal is filmed as if it is the bodily disposal of Green.

Upon hearing this, I was completely flabbergasted, I was flummoxed, I was angry but most of all I was left feeling absolutely betrayed. This animal in the semi-humanoid Green, through amazing film-making, close-up shots, lack of dialog, un-paralleled visual imagery, who I had developed an emotional attachment to, whose death I thought I was now invested in emotionally and physically, was still alive. I had been essentially lied to by the film-maker to make a point; a point imminently and fundamentally crucial about how consumer capitalism is destroying habitats and orang-utans enmasse, but a point none-the-less that hangs on a real yet also a faked scene/story-line, one that might be attributed to ‘poetic or creative’ licence of artists and film-makers, but which, for me, evoked betrayal more than anything else.

So what was I left with after I stopped ‘going with the film’, got the truth behind the (if you will) Green-wash of the ‘death’ of Green, calmed down a bit and tried to console my feelings of betrayal? In short, does what might not be so aptly called ‘Green-gate’—my making of something out of seemingly nothing like other noun-plus-‘gate’ scandals—actually have something a bit more substantive to it?

There are three quick points and/or sets of questions I think that might have some resonance here. The first, is the issue about genre: what type of film is Green? Is it a documentary meant to provide us information about the fate of orangutans? Is it about imparting knowledge to its viewers about the fate of the forests and inhabitants? And so does it have a higher standard of truth then perhaps other genres might and perhaps should have? Or is it merely environmentally-themed art more able to be fast and loose or ‘creative’ in order to tell a story, part-fictionalised, part-real but all for affect and effect? In a way, the power of Green is actually its blending or ‘transgressions’ across so many different things: art, spectacle, politics, truth, authenticity, construction, entertainment, information and knowledge, care, emotion, imagery, sound. At the same time, this difference is also partially a function of the explicitly politicised ends of the film-maker and film to hold a number of actors accountable here, one set of whom is us as the consumers of many of these habitat-destroying commodities; I think this is really where my sense of betrayal—or what some might call naiveté—was coming from. And, so how much creative license are we going to allow here in order to allow the telling of a compelling narrative to spur us into action, which, in this case means the faked death of Green? What would have happened if the ending would have been differently constructed and Green would have survived, flourished and returned to the wilds? Nature can be re-cooperated and recover and so there is no need to take political action? Or would it make us that much more willing to support orang-utan rescue operations, nature reserves and other ways of maintaining habitat if the outcome can be positive? Either way, it certainly would have changed the emotive registers and call to action that one comes away with from in the movie.

Secondly, this kind of ‘after the fact’ resurrection of Green brought to my mind the growing and much wider ethical ‘consequentialism’—i.e. that the ends justifies the means—that is so much a part of more mainstream environment and development projects at the moment. Examples here might include the absolute capture of environmental groups by corporate sponsorship or the sale of fair trade goods through Nestle—the most boycotted company in the world and one of the reasons fair trade was set up in the first place—both of whom cite the wider positive environmental or development outcomes and/or ‘engagement’ opportunities afforded to them through these arrangements. Corporations are simply ‘too big to ignore’ so they must be engaged with and so why not turn this to positive ends as this argument goes. Here, Green dies in a fit of ‘creative fiction’ in order to spur us into action and thus, if we are not only more aware but also work to act, then, seemingly, the political ends of Green the film justifies its creative means. The question, then I guess, would then be something like to what ends does this consequentialism—in progressive social movements as well as in Green—get us and are we comfortable with this?

Finally, I want to end on an empirical question that calls on Arjun Appadurai’s work, namely what is the ‘social life’ of media like Green that works to provide information and knowledge in these ways and in an era defined by Nature, Inc? It is almost impossible to turn on the TV or approach any other media without being confronted by some programme, show or website willing to ‘de-fetishise’ whatever industry or commodity is of concern or some new commodity announcing it has been certified to some set of progressive standards. What sort of wider work are these programmes and products doing on publics, both at the more broad general sense as well as the individual sense, as most often these things are about asking us to consume in different ways? And, what, invoking Clive Barnett’s work here, do we do with the tension that is inherent in the provisioning of these knowledges in these media?: so on the one hand knowledge and information can work to develop care and spur action at the same time it can also work to develop ‘un-care’ and ‘inaction’ due this very same knowledge which can overwhelm individuals and make action seem futile given the size of the problem.

So, to end, for me, the affective power and politics of Green the film is unparalleled, uncompromising and something amazing to behold; I just wish I had never gone to see the filmmaker talk about it.