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Impressive Canadian scientist, educator, television personality and eco-activist David Suzuki gets an “Inconvenient Truth”-like platform in “Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie.” Canadian helmer Sturla Gunnarsson cuts between Suzuki delivering his aptly titled “The Legacy Lecture” before a sold-out audience at U. of British Columbia in 2009 and a chronology of events shaping his life and worldview. Nabbing the people’s choice kudo for documentary at the recent Toronto fest should help draw Canuck viewers to the earnest pic’s upcoming theatrical release and 2011 broadcast. Offshore, exposure through broadcast and academic/activist channels is likely.

Although Suzuki’s message that humans have exhausted the resources of the biosphere and need to rethink their relationship with the natural world may be a familiar one, it bears repeating. Clad in jeans and red shirt with a Haida decoration, he cites statistics and examples from the podium of the lecture hall with ease and urgency as ever-changing larger-than-life images stressing the interconnectedness of life on Earth play behind him.

Now in his 70s, and well known to most Canadians as host of the long-running CBC-TV program “The Nature of Things” and the radio series “Quirks and Quarks,” Suzuki seems to relish the opportunity to look back over his life and career. Formative experiences revisited include his family’s internment during World War II; his teen years in Leamington, Ontario, where his was the only nonwhite family; and his championing of civil rights while studying and working in the U.S. in the 1950s.

Archival footage of his genetics lab at UBC starting in the late 1960s, where he did breakthrough research on fruit flies, shows him as a hippie guru worshipped by his students.

Although Suzuki relates some touching stories about his parents, the pic is less forthcoming about his adult personal life. His daughter Severn, who married into the Haida tribe, is shown without introduction or recognition of her own eco-activist work.

Suzuki’s eco-activism has been shaped by his involvement with the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest, who take a holistic attitude to the environment. His book “The Sacred Balance” cites seven items that he (and they) find essential for human beings: earth, air, fire, water, biodiversity, love and spirituality.

Prolific helmer Gunnarsson, who alternates among docus, features and TV drama, here has a distracting habit of racking focus to extreme closeups of Suzuki’s face and holding the shot there whenever his subject touches on personal matters, as if he might capture or entice some big emotion. However, the articulate Suzuki is mostly a cool customer, only choking up when he visits the Japanese-Canadian internment camp memorial museum.

Tech aspects seem geared for the smallscreen. The pop music track (e.g., “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “The End of All Rivers,” “When It’s Gone It’s Gone”) provides nerdy commentary.

Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie

Canada

  • Production: An eOne Films release (in Canada) of a Legacy Lecture Prods./National Film Board of Canada (English Program) production in association with the CBC, Planet Green with the support of Rogers Telefund, Telefilm Canada, OMDC, Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, British Columbia Prod. Tax Services. (International sales: eOne Films Intl., Toronto.) Produced by Janice Tufford, Sturla Gunnarsson, Yves J. Ma. Executive producers, Laszlo Barna, Steven Silver, Tracey Friesen. Directed, written by Sturla Gunnarsson. Lecture written by David Suzuki.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Tony Westman; editor, Nick Hector; production designer, Dany Lyne; sound (Dolby Digital), Roderick Matte, Shawn Miller, Sammy Yi, Rylan Kerbes, Martin Lee, Mandy Ley. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 10, 2010. (Also in Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: With: David Suzuki. (English, Japanese, Haida dialogue)
  • Music By: