An ‘Elemental’ Undertaking: Environmental Film Humanizes the Eco-Warrior

Reader Contribution by Kale Roberts
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Elemental. Go Project Films, 2012. 93 min.

There’s more than one way to be an environmental warrior. And some approaches work better than others.

Elemental follows the stories of three environmental advocates united by their deep connection with nature and driven to confront some of the most dire ecological issues affecting their respective communities. This isn’t only a story about plight and pollution, however. Rather, Gayatri Roshan’s and Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee’s documentary works best as a character-driven study of eco-activism’s do’s and don’ts.

The thing about Elemental’s heroes is that they come with flaws and the film is not hiding any of them. Theirs is a grounded brand of glory. A viewer, no matter their political leanings or stance on environmental issues, can’t help but empathize  when water official Rajendra Singh struggles to rally jaded villagers to clean up a toxic stretch of the Ganges River, hanging his head in temporary defeat more than once. Or when Eriel Deranger, a young Canadian tar sands activist tries to win over a skeptical crowd by explaining, with a nerve-shaken appeal not without a hint a desperation, that she’s actually not an environmentalist; she’s a Native American activist. Regardless of labels and obstacles, these eco-warriors will not give up without a fight. A warrior’s weaknesses are what make them human — and the general public is able to identify with the humanizing elements of these activists’ approaches.

Elemental premiered in 2012 at the Mill Valley Film Festival and was lauded throughout the film festival circuit. The film has wide geographic appeal — highlighting environmental justice issues from Australia to India and North America. But the film’s strengths come from the appeal of its take-away lesson: Big or small, eco-battles take all kinds of fighters. The viewer leaves with the sense that, if these three individuals manage to keep their spirits up in the face of great opposition and challenge, then surely I too can push for change in my own town — in my own way — and learn to leave doubt and discouragement at the door.

The film opened at the Cinema Village theater in New York City May 17th, with screenings in major U.S. cities and international venues throughout the rest of summer. Visit the film’s Screenings webpage

for show times. Elemental can also be purchased at the iTunes Store.