'Surviving Progress': Documentary paints picture of civilization headed toward doom

A wake-up call of epic significance, Surviving Progress is one of those documentaries that everybody should see - and, alas, a documentary that many will dismiss as politically slanted, while others just won't know it's there.

Still, co-directors Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, using British historian Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress as their template, deserve credit for assembling a daunting array of facts and theories and shaping them into a remarkably cogent, albeit remarkably alarming, film.

Wright, one of Surviving Progress' many talking heads, cites graffiti scrawled on a wall: "Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up." This is essentially the film's thesis: that just as earlier civilizations collapsed in a perfect storm of excess, environmental devastation, hunger, and inequity, our civilization - now global in dimension - is heading down the same path. And, at an incredible velocity.

Linking ecological and economic evidence, cultural patterns and commercial trends, and bringing home the point that modern man is essentially built on the same framework as the hunters and gatherers of eons ago - but "running on 21st-century software" - Surviving Progress does not paint a pretty picture.

Wright talks about "progress traps" - seemingly useful developments that ultimately don't benefit society, but wreak havoc on it. Deforestation, industrialization, "out-of-control financial oligarchies," it's a laundry list of doom and gloom.

If there is hope to be found in Roy and Crooks' cautionary doc, it's from the passionate insights and innovative ideas presented by its interviewees, including writer Margaret Atwood, Chinese economics professor Chen Changnian, primatologist Jane Goodall, economic historian Michael Hudson, former Brazilian minister of the environment Marina Silva, biologist J. Craig Venter, and Congolese activist Kambale Musavuli.

As long as there are people with great ideas, perhaps a different kind of progress can be made.

Surviving Progress **** (out of four stars)

Directed by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks. With Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki, Stephen Hawking, Robert Wright, Ronald Wright, Marina Silva, Jane Goodall, and others. Distributed by First Run Features.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes).

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

Surviving Progress

Directed by Mathieu Roy, Harold Crooks. With Marina Silva, Margaret Atwood, Daniel Povinelli, Simon Johnson, Colin Beavan, Ronald Wright, Stephen Hawking, Robert Wright, Jane Goodall, David Suzuki. Distributed by First Run Features.

Running time: 1 hours, 26 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().