Monday, March 28, 2011


by Darren Gilbert

Until he saw Zeitgeist Moving Forward, Media Update's Darren Gilbert had no idea as to what exactly the word ‘Zeitgeist’ or anything to do with its movement meant. Gilbert shares his thoughts on the documentary.

If I was to mention the word ‘Zeitgeist’ or anything to do with its movement, I would expect to get one of two responses in return. The first – a blank stare, a shake of the head and, possibly, a query. The second – a figure running off into the distance in the belief that I wanted to brainwash them into a cult. I wouldn’t blame those who espoused either of these responses, because until I saw Zeitgeist Moving Forward, I was just like them.

The Zeitgeist movement is a grassroots one that describes itself as a ‘sustainability advocacy organisation’. It is the official activist arm of The Venus Project, an organisation that promotes a vision for the future of the Earth by founder, Jacque Fresco. In short, it’s a different way of observing and engaging with the world, but to label it ‘cult-like’ is a bit strong.

So, with a little background to the movement, I swallowed my trepidation and went to the Labia, a small multiplex movie theatre in Cape Town central. My reservations were not completely unfounded as this film is one that should come with a warning, albeit a friendly one: it will not appeal to everyone. It is a documentary first and a film second, so anyone hoping for commercial frivolity will be disappointed. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t absorbing.

A quote from the late Austrian journalist, writer and politician, Ernst Fischer, begins the 161-minute film: “In a decaying society, art – if it is truthful – must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.” These are heavy words, especially right off the bat, but this is a feature-length documentary that pulls no punches. These very words lay the foundation for what proved a heavily philosophical and thought-provoking film.

Thankfully, the film is not as laborious as the running time might suggest. It is split into four parts or chapters that each focus on a different aspect of the world today. The first is ‘Human Nature’, the second ‘Social Pathology’, the third ‘Project Earth’ while the last is titled ‘Rise’. Those more interested in the human psyche than the possible overhaul of a capitalist system may feel the movie drags.

The complexity of human behaviour is the crux of the first chapter. Under this, there is the ‘Nature versus Nurture’ debate. However, instead of stacking them against each other, Director, Peter Josephs, comes to the conclusion that both influence rather than shape behaviour. This placing of the two side by side is either a brave or rational move, depending on where you stand.

No matter where you stand though, this first chapter brings with it a challenge that becomes a continuing thread – it is a challenge to think.

The second chapter, ‘Social Pathology’, is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the documentary. Capitalism is the ‘it’ system when it comes to the economy, but according to the Zeitgeist Movement, it needs to be overhauled. This is where fantasising comes in because, as much as it calls for a resources-based economy, the world is too advanced and the system too entrenched for it to happen. This is also where the movie falls apart, because as much as the idea of a resources-based economy is interesting to ponder, Josephs fails to supply the audience with a path to such an economy.

After watching the first two chapters of Zeitgeist Moving Forward, I noticed something. The film was building up to what the Zeitgeist Movement actually wanted – a world revolution. The last two chapters of the documentary further entrenched this call with ‘Project Earth’ speculating what could happen if human beings were given the chance to start again. It’s a nice idea, but this argument breaks down because it removes the role of human nature in the shaping of the world. On this backbone of speculation, there is also the call to ‘Rise,’ the title of the final chapter. Will the world rise? A few pockets of civilisation may do so, but not enough. A revolution needs more than just a minority.

To be honest, I’m not too sure whether I should take the film seriously or not. Yes, it has some nice ideas and they could work – but they are theories. If I had to peg down an opinion, I’d have to say it’s a good piece of speculative fiction banking on the idea that if enough people hear it, the future of the earth could be dramatically altered. I think it is one thing to listen and another to act. Zeitgeist Moving Forward is successful in making you think, but whether or not enough will act is debatable at best.