The Power of Social Networks,
3D Documentaries and 3D Feature Films
to Promote Environmental Intelligence
Barry Sandrew, Ph.D.
Founder and CCO/CTO
The following is the text of a presentation to the World Cultural Forum held in Hangzhou, China that I presented as an invited guest of the government of the Peoples Republic of China. The Forum was attended by noted governmental leaders, journalists, filmmakers, scientists and environmental activists from around the world for the purpose of bringing about greater awareness of environmental concerns and to exchange ideas as to how to produce positive change to benefit the health of our planet.
There’s no denying that our earth is changing. The voluminous scientific literature surrounding global warming is a compelling indicator that we are facing an uncertain environmental future.
However just the other day I read that while 97% of scientists agree that man is a contributing factor to global warming, 60% of Americans actually believe there is no scientific consensus on the subject. Obviously scientific study and scholarly reports have little impact on the average person… at least in the United States, but I believe the same is true in many other parts of the world.
Clearly, there is a need to explore innovative ways to educate and inform the world’s general population regarding the fate of our planet and to inspire greater environmental responsibility.
I believe that the most important targets of this education are our children… the environmental activists of tomorrow. How to reach them, excite them and inspire them to action is no small task.
Creating Awareness That We Live in a One World Society:
Our young people must be made aware of the deteriorating state of the environment. They must know that their way of life is being threatened… even those living in the most privileged nations of the world. I don’t believe this can happen without our children achieving a clear understanding of their place in the world… that they are truly citizens of our global community.
Social Networks Empower Our Children:
Fortunately that awareness began spontaneously several years ago. It happened via social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Social networks have become one of the most influential means of shaping the ideas, perspectives and attitudes of young people.
In fact, social networking is transforming all of us into a global society where information, communication and ideas transcend geographic, political, religious and cultural borders. More important, this information is coming to us via social networks by the very people who are personally experiencing significant world events.
The Citizen Journalists:
These people have become known as citizen journalists… average people who share their perceptions with us as their stories are unfolding… not as objective reporters but as subjective witnesses to both social unrest and environmental tragedies that threaten their way of life if not their very existence.
Unlike the way traditional news outlets report stories of these events, the perspectives of citizen journalists are not about the story. Instead their personal perspectives actually become the story… punctuated by all the raw emotions that the moment evokes.
First Hand Accounts of Environmental Disasters:
A prime example… as a result of citizen journalists who uploaded videos to social media websites via their cell phones and iPads, we learned what it was actually like to be poolside at an Indonesian resort witnessing the dramatically rapid outgoing tide and eerie silence that precedes a tsunami. We subsequently understood the fear and anticipation to be with other terrified and helpless tourists watching an ominous 30-meter high tsunami approaching from the distance.
At the same time, from the false security of a hotel room we learned from another citizen journalist what it was like to watch the tsunami consume everything in its path… sweeping away cars and people as he recorded each moment on video along with a spontaneous, emotional running commentary.
We understood from first hand accounts of citizen journalists what it was like preparing for the certain destructive power of super hurricane Sandy as it threatened entire communities in the North East part of the US.
We turned to social media sites along with millions of other individuals to discuss the unfolding events leading up to and including the onslaught of Sandy's extreme wind and rain. Most important, we observed people in the communities most affected, communicating with each other, comparing experiences and lamenting the frustration that comes from a lack of civic resources to help in the immediate aftermath and cleanup.
Social Media Is Empowering:
It’s the immediacy, intimacy and interactivity of social networks that makes them particularly effective in teaching our children that they are part of a one-world community characterized by interdependence.
The words, pictures and videos shared by people all across the globe are constant reminders that our differences are quite superficial and that our interpersonal relations, our personal goals and our hopes for a better future represent a common denominator that defines the human condition.
Achieving this one world perspective is an essential precursor to the establishment of an environmentally aware generation that can drive positive change.
Immersive Stereo 3D Has Unique Educational Potential:
However, to fully reinforce this emotionally immersive perspective, we need a way to physically immerse our young people into the dark side of environmental issues so they can understand by personal experience how fragile our planet is and what the potential solutions are to current and future environmental crises.
Today our children can experience… essentially first-hand… significant environmental events throughout the world through well-crafted, immersive documentaries produced by gifted 3D filmmakers.
Unlike current 2D movies, 3D filmmaking transforms the movie screen into an exquisitely open window that has both an interior and an exterior, enveloping the entire theater.
In fact, when produced correctly, the space both in front of and behind the movie screen becomes an integral part of the story and the message.
As both a neuroscientist and filmmaker I’m very much aware how audience members experience feature films differently in a 3D movie relative to a 2D movie. In a 3D movie they experience the content both visually and viscerally in a very primal manner because the 3D medium actually infringes on each audience member’s unique personal space… drawing them into the 3D immersive experience.
To better understand… surround sound has an analogous effect in that we sense that we are physically “in the center of the audio” rather than passively listening to stereo audio in front of us. This is the difference between 2D documentaries and what I see as the future of 3D environmental education.
As a pioneer of 3D filmmaking I believe that presenting the facts of global warming and environmental decay in a manner that closely simulates reality is the most effective method for capturing and holding the attention of young people… motivating them to become engaged in conservation and environmental change.
However, recent 3D environmental documentaries present naturalist themes that deliver sanitized, naturalist views of the world via stunning cinematic vistas and staged cycle of life docudramas of indigenous animals and people. Unfortunately, these documentaries do little to draw awareness to the plight of the planet. Quite the contrary, they present a sense of denial.
Who Will Deliver Environmental Messages in 3D?
There are filmmakers like naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who create overtly environmentalist films. In State of the Planet, released in 2000, he presented a documentary on the impact of man’s activities on nature. He later tackled the issue of global warming in The Truth about Climate Change, released in 2006 and human population growth in How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?, released in 2009. In addition, he highlighted the plight of endangered species in BBC's Saving Planet Earth project in 2007. These are exceptional films but they were all produced in 2D.
It’s only been within the last 3 years that Attenborough has started to experiment with the use of 3D filmmaking in his nature films. In that time he’s created several exceptional documentaries such as his recent three part series on Sky3D entitled Galapagos 3D that explores the history of the Islands and its bio diversity using 3D filmmaking that literally immerses us within that exotic location.
However, unfortunately all the 3D documentaries Attenborough has produced to date have been focused more on his talent as a naturalist than as an environmentalist.
We can only hope that in the future he and other noted documentary filmmakers will focus this new and exciting 3D medium less on the entertainment value of the craft and more on reaching into the heart of serious environmental issues as Sir David previously did in 2D.
In addition to no holds barred, hard hitting 3D documentaries there is also a need for fictional dramas and docudramas with scripts that create a clear backdrop of environmental activism. A great example, but in 2D is the film Gorillas in the Mist, the 1988 American drama, nominated for five Academy Awards.
Directed by Michael Apted and starring Sigourney Weaver as naturalist Diane Fossey, it tells the true-life story of Fossey’s work in Rwanda with mountain gorillas threatened by poachers.
Environmental films with this much dramatic impact should be encouraged. We need to see and understand the dark side of man’s interaction with nature via exceptional scripts produced, not in 2D, but rather by today’s new breed of 3D filmmakers in a manner that takes us into the story as if we’re actually there.
Who Will Fund Direct, Hard Hitting Environmental Films?
Obviously, quality 3D movies with environmentalist messages similar in impact and scale to Gorillas in the Mist can generate sufficient box office and Blu-ray sales to justify their production. However, 3D documentaries and docudramas with less revenue potential will likely require subsidized funding. MacGilivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation is one such non-profit which contributes to the conservation of the world’s natural and cultural heritage through giant screen films and companion educational programming. More funding from around the world targeting environmental awareness needs to be funneled into direct, impactful storylines that can be presented in the form of informative and immersive 3D films and documentaries.
I believe that this revolution in both social media networking and 3D movies will bring about a greater awareness in all of us that we exist as part of a symbiotic global community. As a natural consequence I believe ecological and environmental intelligence will take hold inspiring positive activism among people of all ages but in particular, in our young people.