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Surviving Progress - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Surviving Progress
Directing: C
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B-
Editing: B

What is imperative that you know about Surviving Progress? Not a whole lot, really. Because pretty much everything it has to say, you've already been told, over and over, ad nauseum.

Had this movie come out ten years ago, I might have had a kinder reception to it. But documentaries with far too broad a concept that paint a dismal picture of the world and then offer up virtually no concrete solutions are becoming too numerous to count. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is one movie that did it right: it basically said, "This is what's wrong with our world, and this is specifically how we can fix it."

But that movie also had a narrower focus: climate change. How much broader can you get with "progress"? Near the beginning of Surviving Progress, there is a succession of talking heads struggling to define the word. It seems like the movie itself has a similar difficulty.

The message seems to boil down to this: use less. Progress for progress's sake results in unnatural over-consumption.

Very Important Figures from all over the world are found to bring this point home for us, from Jane Goodall to Stephen Hawking to Margaret Atwood. Most of them are American, British or Canadian; but the movie does travel to Brazil (in a segment on the Amazon, naturally), China and India. In one segment that veers close to a slippery slope, a scientist extols genetic engineering as a Great Hope for Mankind. This is almost immediately refuted by another as a so-called "Progress Trap" (an instance where what seems like progress actually does more harm than good), but the topic, something ripe for vigorous debate, is otherwise gleaned over.

The opening credits state this film is "inspired by" the book A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. Wright himself, positioned with the backdrop of a generic city skyline, is a prominently featured talking head. One wonders how much these people interviewed knew about what the final film was meant to look like. In the end, not one of them is shown saying anything nearly as insightful as they have said previously on other platforms.

In most cases, their other platforms have a far broader reach than this movie. Not only is its subject matter far too broad, but this is yet another documentary about the woes of the world that merely preaches to the choir -- the choir being a truly limited audience of people who bother coming to see it. Surviving Progress makes a valiant attempt at zippy editing, and as such manages to be relatively engaging. But what about when the engagement is over? When the credits roll, you leave the theatre having found the film to be mostly forgettable. The effect is similar to attending a school class where you know the subject is important, but you just can't muster up much interest in it. It's not that there isn't anything there to get fired up about -- it's just that the presentation offers little in the way of inspiration.

Massive cities are shot ominously in SURVIVING PROGRESS.

Overall: C+
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