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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives

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March 18, 2011

Movie Review Friday: Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme that's currently in theaters or on DVD.  

Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives: The Environmental Footprint of War (2008)

Available on DVD


As if war wasn't bad enough already, now we have worry about the whales, too. An early segment of Alice and Lincoln Day's 2008 documentary Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives , a treatise on how warfare destroys the environment, explores the damaging effects sonar and underwater naval testing have on sea mammals like humpback whales, who use sound to communicate. Apparently, regular deafening bleeps from submarines discombobulate the whales.

This is only one example of how military activity disrupts the environment, which one commentator calls "war's silent casualty." The Days have a remarkable knack for finding file footage from all the conflicts they examine, and they get input from an incredible diversity of politicians, activists, NGO policy wonks, and veterans. Some of the topics we've seen before, like planes spewing Agent Orange over Vietnam's forests, but others will be new to some viewers: the total annihilation of olive forests across Afghanistan, which speeds desertification and ruins local economies.

The film visits battlefields all over the world, from Rwanda to Cambodia, as far back as the U.S. Civil War and as recent as our ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Along the way, forests turn to deserts, animals are displaced, and children are born with horrific defects caused by chemical weapons.

In other words, this is not a film for a first date, unless your beau-to-be is a disaster junkie. Indeed, the film walks directly atop that thin line between shocking its audience and spurring it to action. Nothing in the film seems sensationalized or inaccurate, but it seems to want us, the viewers, to do something after seeing it, and it's not clear what. Maybe by looking at war from this unusual angle, the filmmakers strive to give us extra ammunition, so to speak, when we write to our Congressmen to protest whatever military action the U.S. is undertaking at the time. 

A new edition of the film was shown at the recent San Francisco Green Film Festival, and was nominated as a finalist for the UK's prestigious Panda award. It will be playing on public television stations nationwide from April to June; check your local listings for times. The film can also be viewed for free in its entirety on its website, where it can also be purchased for community screenings.

--Tim McDonnell


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