×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Time to Choose’

Charles Ferguson's climate-change doc is a film of ironic beauty that allows us to see what the destruction of the earth looks like.

With:
Peter Agnefjall, Tasso Azevedo, Neal Barnard, Jerry Brown, Mike Brune. Jane Goodall, Michael Pollan, Steven Chu, Lynn Crosby, Oronto Douglas, Sebastian Duma, Christina Figueres, Wu Gang, Maria Gunnoe, Jennier Hall-Massey, Danny Kennedy, Jaime Lerner, Peter Lewis, Amory Lovins, Eric Luo, Mia MacDOnald, Blairo Maggi, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, Russ Mittermeier, Oscar Issac.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5001130/

“An Inconvenient Truth,” the epochal Al Gore/Davis Guggenheim documentary about climate change (which back then was still routinely called global warming), came out 10 years ago last week. There have been any number of climate-change docs since, and none of them has summoned anything like the impact of Gore’s seismic cinematic lecture. But one of the few nonfiction filmmakers who’s come close to inspiring that level of conversation — on any subject — is Charles Ferguson, who directed the definitive, awards-showered Iraq War doc “No End in Sight” (2007) and also “Inside Job” (2010), his penetratingly skeptical, ahead-of-the-curve look at the 2008 financial meltdown and its aftermath.

Time to Choose” is only Ferguson’s third feature, and his first in five years, and given that it’s his own highly ambitious inquiry into climate change, you’d think that it would be something of an event. But “Time to Choose” enters a different documentary marketplace than the one that defined “An Inconvenient Truth” or “No End in Sight.” The thirst for nonfiction hasn’t disappeared, but the way that we consume documentaries has been splintered and fragmented, multiplied and — in another sense — diminished. “Time to Choose” is opening with a notable absence of fanfare, and it’s hard not to wonder if the very subject of climate change has produced a kind of Chicken Little syndrome. The global temperature is rising! The ice sheets are melting! The world is ending! But do I really have to see another movie about it?

At this point, climate-change fatigue seems an understandable — if not exactly justifiable — emotion. Yet “Time to Choose,” while it isn’t structured to be the slap-in-the-face wake-up call that “An Inconvenient Truth” was, is still a film that shapes and alters your perceptions. Narrated in a tone of calm insurgency by Oscar Isaac, it’s not out to rehash every piece of evidence that man-made climate change is happening, or that its effects are potentially catastrophic. In quick strokes, it reminds us why the rise in carbon dioxide levels degrades the air and the seas in ways that are already starting to devastate the planet. (Some, as a result, may call the film “one-sided.” But most scientists would not.) Really, though, the movie is a dive into what the future — of the earth, of energy consumption, of our lives — is going to look like. It’s about how inconvenience gives way to inevitability.

Ferguson has a background in academia and technology, and in 1996 he became an Internet multi-millionaire when he sold his website-development company to Microsoft; he works with a freedom of economy and scale that most documentary directors don’t have. One of the intriguing aspects of his born-again career — he was 52 when “No End in Sight” was released — is that he embraced the fullness of being a filmmaker, using the possibility of creating a movie not just as a way of dispensing information but as a rounded visual-dramatic experience. He became an aesthetician of truth. That has never been more so than in “Time to Choose,” which creates a flow of indelible images. Ferguson traveled the globe to film eye-popping landscapes of the natural world, which sounds like it might be precious, as though he were shooting a lush environmental calendar, but he doesn’t linger, and the revelation is that in image after image, he also reveals the destruction of the natural world.

We see, from sweeping helicopter shots, the shocking, shaved-earth aftermath of mountaintop removal, or billowing midnight oil fires that look as vast as hurricanes, or the toxic horror of the coal-sludge impoundments of Appalachia, or — in shots that were done surreptitiously, since the penalty for taking them is five years in prison — what the peatlands of Indonesia now look like. They are forests that used to absorb more carbon than all the rest of the world’s forests combined, but they are now being razed by the government and sold to corporations that want to mine the area for palm oil (which goes into everything from cookies to cleaning products).

The destruction of the Brazilian rain forests, so obsessed over in the ’80s, now sounds quaint next to the global epidemic of deforestation that is captured in “Time to Choose.” The image of an ecosystem that is collapsing in slow motion; of the global pollution wrought by the mining of fossil fuels — these are charged topics that have been fought over for years, yet Ferguson lets us take in the issue through the evidence of our senses. His images sear themselves into your imagination. “Time to Choose” may come off, at moments, like the “Koyaanisqatsi” of environmental devastation, but it is also a dreadfully beautiful achievement. It shows us what the building blocks of climate change look like.

It also points to a way out. The movie is structured as a meditation, and there are times it’s a little flat; there may simply be a limit to how much excitement there is in watching someone like the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu say, with notable matter-of-factness, “I don’t think most citizens in the world have really grasped what is happening, and what the risks are. Many of our major cities will be submerged.” Yet he may be right: When it comes to climate change, the majority of people — even those of us who aren’t skeptics — live in something of a denial, because the whole thing, let’s be honest, is terribly abstract.

Ferguson’s biggest news flash — and he provides a truckload of evidence for it — is that renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which have been mocked for years as well-meaning but minor hippie-dippy solutions, have become a ruthlessly competitive economic alternative. They are now cheaper than fossil fuels, and the film makes a potent case that the reason we aren’t using more of them is that big oil simply doesn’t want it that way. The fossil-fuel companies, whether in the United States or China (a nation so hooked on coal that it is poisoning itself), control the government, the propaganda, the thinking. It’s their way or no way. “Time to Choose” says: There is another way. Like “An Inconvenient Truth,” the movie provides its audience with impassioned dollops of information, but more than that it simply asks us to open our eyes.

Film Review: 'Time to Choose'

Reviewed online, New York, June 2. (In Telluride Film Festival.) Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Final Frame release, in assocation with DIG Audio, United Talent Agency, Cinetic, and Abramorama. Produced by Charles Ferguson, Audrey Marrs. Executive producers, Tom Dinwoodie, Jeff Horowtiz, David Desjardins, David Hochschild, John Madden, Diana Meservey. Associate producers, Caitlin Cutter, Solly Granatstein, Sophie Harris, Crystal Huang, Dan Kammen, Yuanchen Liu, Kalyanee Mam, Aoife Nugent, Justine Otondo, Krista Parris, Ali Roth, Stacy Roy, Emily Searles, Vanessa Trengrove.

Crew: Directed by Charles Ferguson. Written by Ferguson, Chad Beck. Camera (color, widescreen), Lula Cerri, Yuanchen Liu, Kalyanee Mam, Heloisa Passos, Lucian Read, Jerry Risius; editor, Chad Beck; music, Francesco Berta.

With: Peter Agnefjall, Tasso Azevedo, Neal Barnard, Jerry Brown, Mike Brune. Jane Goodall, Michael Pollan, Steven Chu, Lynn Crosby, Oronto Douglas, Sebastian Duma, Christina Figueres, Wu Gang, Maria Gunnoe, Jennier Hall-Massey, Danny Kennedy, Jaime Lerner, Peter Lewis, Amory Lovins, Eric Luo, Mia MacDOnald, Blairo Maggi, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, Russ Mittermeier, Oscar Issac.

More Film

  • Black Panther

    'Black Panther,' 'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Westworld' Among Costume Designers Guild Winners

    “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” walked away with top honors at the 21st annual Costume Designers Guild Awards Tuesday night, the final industry guild show before the Oscars on Feb. 24. “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” are up for the Oscar this year, along with “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “Mary Poppins [...]

  • WGA Writers Contract Talks

    Talent Agents, WGA Achieve Progress in Second Round of Talks

    Hollywood talent agents and the Writers Guild of America have achieved some progress at their second negotiating session over agency regulations, according to sources close to the talks. The two sides met Tuesday, two weeks after their first meeting resulted in both sides criticizing each other, followed by the WGA holding a trio of spirited [...]

  • Aaron Paul

    Film News Roundup: Aaron Paul Honored by Sun Valley Film Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, Aaron Paul is honored, Bruce Berman is re-upped at Village Roadshow, and Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher get a book deal. FESTIVAL HONORS More Reviews Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh Out' Berlin Film Review: 'Marighella' The Sun Valley Film Festival has selected Idaho native and three-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul as [...]

  • Olivia Munn]EMILY'S List Pre-Oscars Brunch, Inside,

    Olivia Munn Says Brett Ratner Called Her Before His 'Howard Stern' Apology

    Olivia Munn is setting the record straight about standing up to “Rush Hour” director Brett Ratner, whom she alleges sexually harassed her over a decade ago. During a panel discussion at the Emily’s List pre-Oscars brunch at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills Tuesday morning, Munn revealed that Ratner called her in 2011 after he denied [...]

  • Flesh Out review

    Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh Out'

    Ignore the awful English-language title: “Flesh Out” is an emotionally rich, sensitively made film about a young woman in Mauritania forced to gain weight in order to conform to traditional concepts of well-rounded beauty before her impending marriage. Strikingly registering the sensations of a protagonist living between the dutiful traditions of her class and the [...]

  • Marighella review

    Berlin Film Review: 'Marighella'

    Does Brazil need a film that openly advocates armed confrontation against its far-right government? That’s the first question that needs to be asked when discussing “Marighella,” actor Wagner Moura’s directorial debut focused on the final year in the life of left-wing insurrectionist Carlos Marighella during Brazil’s ruthless military dictatorship. For whatever one might think of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content