BIFF Review: Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

Scale is at the core of Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, a documentary looking at the influence the human race has had on the overall climate and condition of our planet. It’s an idea that is so vast in magnitude that doing it justice is no small feat. Yet Anthropocene delivers and its grim look on the future is only matched by its awe-inspiring presentation. 

This is the third collaboration between the multi-award-winning team of Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky following Manufactured Landscapes (2006) as well as Watermark (2013). Their latest feature, Anthropocene was made over the course of four years and that scope really comes through. The film is separated into different segments each typically looking at one particular matter (deforestation, open-pit mining, climate change to name a few) and how specific countries such as China, Germany, Kenya or the United States, are contributing to the world’s present condition. It does get quite repetitive in structure but not to a fault. It uses this format to constantly hone in and drive home just how immense and spanning these issues are. It seriously needs to be seen on the biggest screen you can. So much of it relies on the sheer magnitude of our impact on the world and that would just be totally lost on a laptop or phone. 

The whole feature is narrated by Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider, Ex Machina) and while her voice is sparsely used, it’s soothing tones wonderfully compliments the decimation of the planet. This film isn’t serving as a call to action as much as it exists as a statement of defeat. There’s a thread of existential terror that Anthropocene rests in, highlighting how the best part of the damage has been done and all we can do is try to lessen its impact. It’s a terrifying thought that leaves you with a pit of despair resting in your stomach by the time it’s finished.

Antrhopocene is epic in every definition of the word. Comparisons to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi are obvious though Anthropocene is a far more cynical and soul-crushing take on the same idea. It is astounding to take in and while it is definitely assisted by a fantastic array of visuals to begin with; it’s shot with such an intimacy while allowing the full nature of its destruction to be realised. Necessary viewing if you want a haunting view on where we’re going as a species.

Additional thoughts from Liam Blair

I totally agree with everything Luka said here, however I’d like to emphasise the fantastic use of perspective to display size.

In numerous moments at the introduction of a new scene or section of the film, a shot would feel very close to the subject, be it a machine or a cliff face. My eyes darted around the frame, desperately seeking a size reference so I could grasp what I’m looking at. As the camera slowly zoomed out, something would be revealed to crush any and all expectations I had. Every single time a shot like this was used I was awestruck at the size of the object I was looking at. This method of reveal was certainly the highlight of the film for me, and considering the content of the film, was highly appropriate and would not suit much else. Bravo.


Promotional image obtained from: The Anthropocene Project (2019), Anthropocene: The Human Epoch.
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Luka Katic
Luka Katic

Luka is a Brisbane-based (Meanjin) writer and filmmaker. He is currently in his final year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film, Screen and New Media).

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