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Earth Days (Unrated)

Denis Hayes in Earth Days. A Robert Stone film. A Zeitgeist Films release.
Denis Hayes in Earth Days. A Robert Stone film. A Zeitgeist Films release.

In the well-behaved documentary Earth Days, wizened, Woodstock-era veterans of the environmental movement recount how conservationists and the counterculture steered Spaceship Earth in a new direction. Yet there’s little that’s new in the retelling, except mellowed musings on Environmentalism 2.0.

The roots of the movement extend to such men as former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Pete McCloskey, a Republican congressman who was the co-chairman of the first Earth Day event in 1970. Their reminiscences about the lost Eden of pre-Vietnam America are illustrated with the sort of campy footage that amuses (but rarely includes working-class urbanites).

By the time the torch was passed to young intellectuals like Paul Erlich (The Population Bomb) and Stewart Brand (The Whole Earth Catalog), environmentalism was regarded as a serious challenge to the American way of life. Director Robert Stone does a thorough job of documenting the media’s puzzlement and the movement’s euphoria. Yet interviewed today, the ex-hippies who started rural communes say they were overly idealistic.

The way some of these veteran activists now put their faith in technological fixes is dispiriting and dubious. Because this movie is as manicured as a PBS retrospective — or a corporate commercial — one could come away from it thinking that there’s nothing much to worry about. There’s little mention of global warming or even foreign countries, let alone practical prescriptions for continuing the fight. Honoring the heroes of the environmental movement is clearly appropriate, but getting mired in nostalgia is a dirty shame.

Director/screenwriter: Robert Stone.

An American Experience release. Running time: 90 minutes. No objectionable material. Playing in Miami-Dade only: Cosford.

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