A documentary that isn’t exactly beautiful or blessed with memorable characters or Werner Herzog’s voice can still be worth your time (and money) if it teaches you something.

A Fierce Green Fire, a new doc that outlines the roots of the green movement, is that kind of movie. It tells the stories of environmentalism’s relatively unsung heroes and shows the worldwide movement’s shift in perspective from local issues to global ones.

It taught me quite a lot, but I don’t exactly see movies — documentaries or otherwise — just to learn things. Hell,  we  have the internet for that.

While Fire is narrated by the likes of Meryl Streep, Ashley Judd and Robert Redford, the film suffers from a certain textbookishness. It presents a lot of interesting information in a short amount of time — which is remarkable — but it doesn’t really offer us profound moments or astounding documentation.

This is not to say the movie lacks poignant (and quite graphic) images. I mean: Holy Moby-Dick! it’s painful to watch a whale’s belly be split open by a spear, or to see the enormous trails of blood left in the wake of a harpoon boat. These particularly grizzly pictures pop up in the movie’s midsection, where the focus is the worldwide push to save the whales. And while bearing witness to that brutality is somewhat shocking, the bloodshed helps one realize what exactly those early activists risked life and limb to stop.

Struggle, indeed, is the central theme of Fire. Starting with the Sierra Club’s efforts to protect nature from industrialization, the movie also shows the rise of Green Peace, the toxic waste controversy in New York’s Love Canal and Chico Mendes’ fight to save the Amazon rainforest from development.

Sort of like a Jean-Claude Van Damme training montage, the challenges go from rather small to enormous. Fire saves the end of the movie for the fight of the decade, the century:  Climate Change vs. Humanity.

Fire, unfortunately, has more than a few competitors in the Documentary About Climate Change category. And while the doc gives a solid assessment of how global politics govern any action on the issue, it doesn’t have the cinematic power of something like Chasing Ice, which astounded us last fall with images of how climate change is eroding one of our planet’s most impressive landscapes: glaciers.

The call to arms, which seems to be required in any film about the environment, feels somewhat trite. It’s doesn’t make your eyes roll, but one wonders how effective a movie can be if it sticks to a format now ready to be called cliche.

But Fire did teach me something. Writer/director Mark Kitchell can sure as hell manage lots of facts, organizations, ideas and story lines. If you’re in the mood to get schooled via cinema, then this is ripe.

A Fierce Green Fire is playing at the Lagoon Cinema.


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