Mark Kitchell’s first documentary since 1990’s Oscar-winning Berkley in the Sixties, A Fierce Green Fire takes a look at the past, present, and future of a global initiative to save the planet from any number of ecological disasters. The film provides a wealth of information, as Kitchell runs the gamut of the history of the environmentalist movement. He begins with John Muir and the Sierra Club, spends ample time on Greenpeace and Paul Watson, and finishes things off with a somewhat bleak summation of where things are today, including Barack Obama’s fumbling of the Kyoto Protocol in 2009.
Though the amount of history covered in the film is impressive, none of it is conveyed in a particular cinematic manner. Kitchell avoids all manner of stylistics, opting instead for the formulaic documentary trifecta of first-person interviews, archival material, and news footage. Certainly Kitchell was aiming for efficiency over technique, but as the film is nearly two hours in length, audiences may grow tired of its humdrum aesthetic.
While the form may prove uninteresting, the content is at least occasionally stimulating. As perhaps the world’s most inclusive sociocultural movement, environmentalism often transcends racial, economical, and political boundaries. Kitchell tastefully accounts for campaigns as diverse as the disaster at Love Canal, in which the lower-middle-class housewives of the small Niagara Falls neighborhood rallied against federal injustice after Hooker Chemical buried hazardous waste under people’s homes, and the efforts of the legendary Chico Mendes, who advocated for the human rights of Brazil’s indigenous peoples and fought to protect the Amazon rainforest from pillaging industrialists.
But Kitchell shows his bias when detailing the history of Greenpeace, depicting it as a heroic counterculture group whose influence on the movement is of the utmost vitality. Kitchell either fails or refuses to acknowledge Greenpeace as it stands today, a notoriously dogmatic multi million-dollar, multinational NGO criticized for its misguided ludditism, shady corporate dealings, and various media controversies, including disastrous stunts like the Greener Electronics campaign and the recent Shell Oil hoax.
Before long, the question arises as to whom this movie is actually for. The film is too rigid and assertive in its message to sway any doubters, and those already sympathetic to the cause won’t glean any new information. A Fierce Green Fire seems to exist to remind waning environmentalists that their efforts help form a larger tapestry of human initiative, a noble if not redundant undertaking that’s attained more easily and more agreeably by re-watching An Inconvenient Truth.