In a sunlit park in Stanford, California, paleontologist Tony Barnosky speaks the words, “This is the critical time for humanity.” He and the woman next to him, biologist Elizabeth Hadly, are the coordinators of a study published in Nature magazine in June 2012, which prompted the documentary of which he is speaking.
A group of friends, all involved in film, had read the study, which discussed the disastrous future waiting for humanity along the current course of overpopulation, climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices.
The documentary, simply titled Tomorrow, is about reaching that day after today, and the path of healing a world in trouble in order to safely get there.
Though the film was originally released in France in 2015, it is just now being released in the United States, where the very issues it discusses have evolved from scientific theories to political talking points. Tomorrow does not speak in the support of political ideologies or talking points. Rather, it speaks about humanity.
In each of the documentary’s segments, the friends meet with citizens, officials and professionals. All of the subjects are involved in trying to understand the flaws in each of their societies and how to improve the situations in which they find themselves.
There are the needs for agricultural development, financial stability, open learning and garbage handling, among other notable problems that are discussed over the two hours.
Documentaries are usually told with the documenters hiding out of sight, the purpose of the camera being to capture what is happening like a fly on the wall.
The creators of Tomorrow are much more participatory than this traditional view. The interviews are conversations. There is a sense of humanity to it all.
Many of the ideas laid out in the film boil down to quality over quantity, by focusing on density. In a three-year study with agricultural institutes, it was found that people could live sustainably off a 1,000 square yard patch of land.
The yield made $36,000 the first year, $43,000 the second year and $65,000 the third. All of this was done by concentrating on small portions of land and the vast potential inherent in them.
In one garden, basil, grapes and tomatoes grow in the same patch. Each part contributes in some way to the well-being of the others, while also taking up less space than they would under traditional farming methods.
One official states that most human food that comes from farms is grown by small farmers, not the large industrial farmers, who feed most of their crops to animals on the farms themselves. Repeatedly, the argument is put forth that it is people, not machines, who can make the most out of their surroundings.
Much like in the dramatic storytelling of The Big Short, Tomorrow offers help understanding complicated ideas or unknown terms for those watching, albeit sans Margot Robbie. There are helpful definitions which pop up for unexplained words.
The aforementioned discussions between sections of the film help center the purpose of the interviews, ideas and technologies that just showed up.
Barring the possibility of information overload over the two hours, no viewer should be leaving confused.
The documentary’s argument boils down to this: the world is in grave danger because humans are stuck in certain ways of doing things.
The movie also reveals simple ways to change that have virtually no downside, resulting in an efficient, self-sufficient, cheap, productive and happy world.
The difficulty in watching Tomorrow lies in the suggested simplicity of fixing the planet.
It all feels too good to be true, but if it is true, then there is an inherent frustration in seeing simple solutions go ignored due to a purported comfort in the way of the world or overwhelming corporate greed.
One of the greatest points of the film is at the very end, when the credits start to roll. The filmmakers offer viewers a website, through which to learn more and work to set about improving society through the methods laid out beforehand.
Tomorrow is very much about the people whose lives it is trying to better. Political engagement is shown to not be limited by voting, and it is important that a film all about effecting change has a call to action at the end of it.
However possible change may be, the message of the film and its means of communication are inspiring. The humanity running through it all shows something to strive for, a purpose for improvement. Every single change offered suggests the importance of an individual, the potential that exists in small packages.
The film ends hopefully, saying it is “not too late, but we have to get moving.” Implementations of the ideas shown exist throughout the world.
Change can be made through the efforts of individual people, humanity acting as the instrument and the purpose for saving the world.