A few ecology lessons from Netflix

Over the past few days, it’s been quite cold outside – at least here, in Poland. I’m really looking forward to the spring, but before it starts for good I prefer to spend evenings at home, reading books and watching films. That’s why in today’s post I have decided to share a few suggestions of shows from the Netflix platform, which according to me are worth becoming familiar with.

A couple of years ago, hardly anyone heard about Netflix in Poland. Today more and more people use it on a daily basis. In my opinion, Netflix’s offer is not particularly interesting when it comes to movies, however it is a never-ending source of joy for fans of series and documentaries. I love series, but I’m also very fond of documentary films. I consider them as a good way of gaining some insights into subjects I haven’t had a clue about before. The ones that I describe below are of course related, in one way or another, to the topics I deal with on the blog. I also could recommend interesting Netflix documentaries from other fields, but this time I have decided to focus on those that touch on themes of conservation, global warming and tourism. Below you will find three micro-reviews. I’m very curious to find out which of the recommended films you will find the most interesting.

The Ivory Game

A documentary so gripping that you feel like you are watching a thriller. The filmmakers take us to three African countries – Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. Unfortunately – not because of the unearthly African landscapes, although they constitute a beautiful background for the sad story told in the film. “The Ivory Game” is a film about African illegal ivory trade to China and Hong Kong. Also about human greed which has led to a dramatic decrease in the African elephant population. We become witnesses of the uneven battle the African police and conservation NGOs have to fight every day against poachers and organised crime groups who are making a huge profit from ivory trafficking. We also find out a lot about elephants – their habits, intelligence, emotions and the way they grieve once a member of the group gets killed.

However, “The Ivory Game” is above all a film about people. On one hand, the people who most of you will probably find repulsive – as they don’t respect life and the only thing they care about is to make more money. Of course, by saying this I mean the people from the very top of the hierarchy in these criminal groups. In “The Ivory Game” we don’t get much information about the “regular” poachers – their motivation, level of knowledge or ecological consciousness. That’s why I don’t think I have the right to pass judgement on common people involved in poaching, as I don’t have enough knowledge about them.

On the other hand – most of the people who appear in the film are the ones who often put their lives at risk, by opposing the criminal groups to save the African elephant from extinction. These people are – among others – Craig Miller from Big Life Foundation or Ian Craig from The Northern Rangelands Trust.It is also a Chinese journalist – Hongxiang Huang – collecting evidence of the illegal ivory trade in China or Andrea Crosta from Elephant Action League. I perceive all of them as highly respectable and likeable people as their everyday work is definitely not the easiest or the safest. Still – they believe elephants are worth it.

“The Ivory Game” is a very beautiful film – fascinating, and at the same time – very sad. Because – among other things – it makes us aware of the fact that in less than twenty years the African elephant might become extinct.

Before the Flood

“Before the flood” is a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it is a film starring global warming. And Leonardo DiCaprio becomes our guide in the world affected by the climate change.

While “The Ivory Game” focuses on one very specific topic, “Before the Flood” covers a very wide range of problems which all have something in common – they all contribute to the climate change. By the way – DiCaprio is one of the producers of both documentaries. In 2014 the actor was designated a UN Messenger of Peace by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. In this role, he focuses on the topic of global warming. “Before the flood” is a means to attract a wider audience to this subject and get them interested in it.

A well-known name opens many doors and can become a passport to places unavailable for mere mortals. This is how the spectators of DiCaprio’s documentary get a chance to see the effects of the global warming and human-caused environmental damages in all continents. The spectators of “Before the flood” are invited to take a virtual journey from Arctica, through Patagonia, the forests of Sumatra and Borneo to the vibrant American cities struggling with natural disasters triggered by the global warming. We can also listen to interviews with world-famous scientists, politicians and technology gurus such as Elon Tusk, the co-founder at Tesla and SpaceX. I was particularly impressed by what President Obama says in the film about the gradual decrease of the world’s natural resources, which constitutes a serious threat to stability and peace in many places around the globe.

Like I said, the film discusses a wide spectrum of topics, such as palm oil production, pollution caused by means of transport, consequences of meat production and excessive consumption practised by citizens of developed countries. DiCaprio asks many questions to his interviewees but in some cases there is no good answer. The conclusions you come to after watching the film are rather depressing, it gives you very few reasons to be optimistic. That’s why I would recommend “Before the flood” to those who don’t believe in the man-made climate change. Or those who until now haven’t bothered to even think about it.

Dark tourist

It is a documentary series, in which a journalist from New Zealand – David Ferrier – travels to places related to the so-called dark tourism. This terms refers to visiting sites historically associated with genocide, murder or activities of organized crime groups.

I have decided to mention the Dark tourist series in this post but to be honest I don’t really like it. David Farrier, although altogether he seems like a very likeable person, covers the topic in a very superficial way and trivializes very complex issues. I also have the impression that he approaches the visited communities and his interviewees in a patronizing way, although he obviously hides it under a very nice smile.

So why did I decide to write about the show on this blog? It doesn’t not seem to have much in common with ecology or sustainability strictly speaking. However, those who have read my recent blog posts know that lately I have focused a lot on the area of tourism and travel. I’ve been looking for an answer to the question what responsible and ethical tourism really means and my conclusion so far is that it is not only about respect towards the natural environment but also to the local communities. And this is an element that dark tourists seem to completely ignore.

I have written already about dark tourism in my review of “Overbooked“. The author of the book, Elizabeth Becker, writes about this phenomenon in the context of travelling to places associated with the Cambodian genocide. In terms of knowledge, accuracy and professional approach to the subject, Farrier’s series cannot even compete with Becker’s book. Nevertheless, I think it is not a bad idea to watch one or two episodes. It will allow you to become familiar with more examples of sites attracting tourist with macabre interests. And also to realize how fashionable this type of tourism has become over the past few years.

In order to find out more about dark tourism, the journalist from New Zealand travels to almost every continent. He takes us, among other things, to Colombia on a Pablo Escobar-themed trip. What’s most shocking about it is that the guide on this tour is a former member of the Escobar’s cartel. I don’t know what you think about it but from my perspective going on a tour with a murder of 250 people as your guide seems controversial to say the least. Especially if your guide enthousiastically replicates a scene of one of many streets execution from the past. The fact that it is “only” a simulation does not make much difference when you realize he really did these things some time ago.

Farrier also joins a group of adrenalin-hungry tourists impersonating illegal migrants trying to cross the boarder between Mexico and the United States. He also accompanies a group of giggling young women on a hen party who have decided that a great idea to spend the evening would be a guided tour in footsteps of a notorious serial killer from Milwaukee. In Japan, the journalist visits nuclear danger zones in Japan, where levels of radioactivity have far exceeded the thresholds safe for humans. He also explores Japan’s Suicide Forest (mentioned in some pieces of Japanese literature). While watching the journalist and his travel companions in their endeavours, I constantly ask myself a question: “Why are they doing this?”.

Although Farrier claims to distance himself from enthousiastic dark tourists and emphasizes that his goal is merely to investigate a certain phenomenon, I sometimes have the impression that he is also enjoying his visits to the gloomy sites. When I watch carefree tourists posing for pictures almost always associated with a tragedy, I feel confused and even frightened by the direction the modern society is heading.

David Farrier admits is is necessary to travel to such sites from time to time – mostly to better understand history or to appreciate your own quiet, everyday life. In my opinion, however, these destinations are not worth travelling thousands of kilometers and all the carbon footprint left on the way. The history of dark tourism sites is undeniably interesting, but a good book, film or a few press articles would certainly provide us with more valuable insights in the topic than cheapo tours or inscenizations of events from the past. Unfortunately, giving up this kind of travel would deprive many people of the opportunity to take a splashy picture for their social media. And this is probably the clue of the whole problem. In fact, a lot depends on the tourists’ motivation and behaviour in the visited places. And these unfortunately often seem very shallow and on the edge of good taste.

And what do you think about dark tourism?

If you know any other interesting documentaries about ecology or sustainable tourism, I would be very happy to get to know the titles. I invite you to share your recommendations in the comments or in the contact form on the blog.

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