Down to Earth

 

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Quality work applied to ends that will inspire some and dismay others.

 
Down to Earth
 

My middle-of-the-road rating is, to be frank, a compromise. On the one hand I’m assessing a well-made film and on the other responding sceptically to what this documentary is trying to do. Watching it you may well feel that you are being subjected to an evangelistic peroration that becomes increasingly off-putting but, if that is my personal reaction, it is only fair to state that Down to Earth has won awards while being acclaimed by some as a film that has changed their lives.

 

What we witness in this intensely personal film is what did indeed change the lives of the filmmakers Renata Heinen and Rolf Winters. Turning their backs on modern lifestyles, this couple opted to spend four years living close to nature in the woods of Upper Michigan. There they met a native medicine man, Nowaten, and were so influenced by his ideas that they then set out on what would become a year’s world-wide quest to find and to listen to (and film) comparable figures to whom they would give the name the Keepers of the Earth.

 

Given their limited experience as filmmakers, Heinen and Winters have come up with a polished work, one that is finely photographed in locations ranging from Kenya to Australia and from Peru to India and it is well edited and has a good music score too. Providing voice-overs and allowing glimpses of themselves on their travels, these two, who undertook the quest accompanied by their three young children, get the balance right: they are present but put the main focus on the various native Keepers of the Earth whom they encountered. However, the film is less ethnological than a work voicing ideas to change the world. In this respect, though, the goalposts seem to keep moving.

 

There are times when the film will readily win the approval of its audience. That is so, for example, when it references environmental issues such as the threat to the rainforest posed by oil companies or when it criticises modern society for its greed and self-centred competitive individualism. However, in urging the need to rediscover a closeness to nature that will transform our understanding of ourselves, the comments made soon come to seem simplistic and banal (“We are the cause of all the problems of the world”; “Life is a gift of Mother Earth”). Briefly, the film seeks to claim that you can be close to this kind of spiritual awareness even while living in a city, but for the most part Down to Earth shows us life in remote areas while proclaiming confidently that wealth kills but poverty is wisdom!

 

What becomes clear as the film proceeds is that the similarities between what is being advocated here and cult religions are alarmingly close. Faith is, we are told, the key and “When you walk the true path nothing will happen to you”. And it all goes beyond social issues: when in Namibia’s Kalahari Desert Heinen and Winters witness a healing ceremony it makes them recognise that our lives can gain energy from the spirits of the dead as well as from the living. In addition we are assured that we can be optimistic twice over: first because there is no death to fear only a crossing into a different life and, secondly, because a transformation into this way of looking at life has already started and is gaining ground. Like any religion, there is a claim here that “We have all the answers”. No wonder that some acclaim this film as inspirational and no wonder that others are highly dismissive of it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Renata Heinen, Rolf Winters. Nowaten, Mukwa Ode, Mokompo Ole Simel, Lekiti Ole Mokompo, Haruzou Urakawa, Akeekwe, Don Jose Quispe, Margaret Connolly, Langani Marika.

 

Dir Renata Heinen and Rolf Winters, Pro Renata Heinen and Rolf Winters, Ph Rolf Winters, Ed Sahil Gill and Andrew Quigley, Music Stephen Warbeck.

 

Purple Wolf Films-Down to Earth Collective.
90 mins. UK. 2015. Rel: 14 September 2018. Cert. U.