Emerge Miami and Sweat Records welcome you to join a screening of HBO’s Earth and the American Dream. This 1992 documentary by Bill Couturié chronicles 500 years of American history told from various publications, letters, and other personal or periodical accounts, all offering insight into the direct impact this prosperity has had on the environment. The film is concise, eloquent, and visual, demonstrating centuries in transition from an expansive wilderness to nation-spanning production. At times this narrative is empowering, at times devastating, continually informing about our environmental history with a clear concern for our planet but a steady and contemplative tone.
Strangely enough, despite its effectiveness and timely importance, HBO only aired it for a brief stint before it seemingly disappeared from the face of the planet. Despite an ensemble cast of narrators from throughout popular culture of the times and a dedicated, painstakingly researched sampling of historic writings, the film ceased to exist.
I have a distinct memory of seeing this documentary air live when I was in middle school. Around that time a classmate boasted that during a recent vacation his family travelled to Alaska where he got to “do his part” by scooping a bucket of oily sludge from a river basin. The service his family volunteered for even gave him a t-shirt with some slogan or other about cleaning up ‘the mess’.
American pop culture in the early 90s enjoyed a brief rally toward environmental awareness following Alaska’s Exxon-Valdez oil spill. The news discussed it. The conversation criticised it. This documentary cultivated it, even if it was for a brief run.
Even the goofy prophetic sea-level rise Kostner film, Waterworld, worked in a joke in which (SPOILERS?) the evil, fuel swilling, cigarette smoking, post-apocalyptic industrial villain’s headquarters are based in the hull of the infamous crashed oil tanker. Dennis Hopper even tosses in a quip about worshiping “Saint Joe”, while gazing on a portrait of Joseph Hazelwood, the negligent captain responsible for causing the worst environmental disaster mankind instigated prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.
While the topic is nothing to make light of, Hollywood found ways to insert it into the dialogue. Earth and the American Dream originally presented an argument on environmental awareness to a culture predominantly avoiding or simply unaware of its importance. The great debate on mankind’s role in climate change was not as omnipresent in the news or political arena– even though many might argue it still isn’t present enough. HBO found a crafty way to harness the Hollywood momentum and provide a fantastic basis for discussion, bringing it into every household through familiar voices and a captivating visual narrative.
There’s a catch to the film’s broad historical reach: the account of history ends with its production in 1992. Man, is it dated! Chernobyl. Bophal. Baby seal clubbing. These are horrors of the past with long-reaching influences on today, but they represent an eco-awareness from thirty years ago. The ecological issues du jour in the early 90s were not necessarily the same as those we tackle with immediacy today. While it does not dwell long on culminating in “contemporary” environmental issues, audiences today may be wondering how this documentary translates to 2016.
That’s where your friends with Emerge Miami come in: we’d love to watch this movie with you and talk about what’s changed, what hasn’t, and how the dialogue can adapt to modern audiences. How would the story of Earth and the American Dream be told today?
Mixing a screening with a discussion with an opportunity to network with concerned locals, Emerge is excited to work with you on ways to create dialogues on our progress and the toll it takes.
Join us at Sweat Records on Thursday, June 2nd, at 7 PM to watch, learn, and build a narrative on our dreams and the ways in which the can intertwine with the environment, rather than interrupt it.