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South Campus Gateway as seen early in 2014 Credit: Lantern file photo
South Campus Gateway as seen early in 2014 Credit: Lantern file photo

Documentary on mankind’s effect on Earth to be shown at Gateway

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“Anthropocene” questions if mankind has affected the planet so much that it has brought on a new geological age. The feature documentary was nominated for Best Film in the Global Health Competition at the 2016 Cleveland International Film Festival, and will be screened at the Gateway Film Center Wednesday at 7 p.m. Director Steve Bradshaw also will appear for a question-and-answer session following the screening.

The documentary filmmaker said he sees the geological history of the Earth as similar to a science fiction story. He found inspiration for the film after being intrigued by the word “Anthropocene.”

“As soon as I heard the word I felt the buzz,” Bradshaw said. “Interestingly I wasn’t sure if it was a happy word or an unhappy word … it sounded sort of ambivalent.”

The Anthropocene is the proposed current geological epoch that signals human impact on Earth’s climate and environment. Some scientists think Earth has changed enough to enter this age, while others argue it is still in the Holocene epoch, which began about 12,000 years ago. The term comes from the Greek roots “anthropo,” which means “man,” and “cene,” which means “new.”

Max Woodworth, assistant professor of geology, teaches on the topic in his classes.

“There’s a whole lot of interest generated by (the) concept of the Anthropocene,” Woodworth said. “It’s the first geological period that is characterized by human-driven impact.”

The documentary and the concept it explores are revolutionary, Woodworth said, because it accepts the significance of human action and human activity causing shifts in the earth’s surface and atmosphere. This activity includes intensive mining, irrigation and agricultural systems, in addition to atmospheric changes affecting the earth’s climate.

“(The term Anthropocene is) under official review by the International Commission on Stratigraphy,” Woodworth said. “They have a special working group that’s considering whether to establish the Anthropocene as a formally established historical period in geological history.”

Woodworth said he hopes that the film moves discussion into the broader public sphere regarding human impact on the earth and whether this is a positive or negative development.

“The term itself implies human impacts,” Woodworth said. “It’s a concept that forces us to reconsider a lot about how we think about people’s acts on the earth.”

Throughout his career in film and reporting, Bradshaw has covered environmental issues, such as global warming. He emphasized that he did not intend to make his film into a “missionary green movie” or preach about environmental issues, but rather showcase both viewpoints in an effort to explore the question: Are humans screwing up the world, or are they making it better?

“You can create moments and meaning in films and television that can live with you years later,” he said. “The idea that the Anthropocene is like a science fiction story which we are all writing is something I really did want to get across to folks of all generations.”

“Anthropocene” is set to screen Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Gateway Film Center and includes a live question-and-answer session with Bradshaw following the event. Admission is free and open to the public. 

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