[SXSW 2020] WE ARE AS GODS -- A Thought-Provoking Portrait of Stewart Brand's Work
Review by Camden Ferrell
Stewart Brand may not be a household name for many, but his influence on our modern world is undeniable. The new documentary, We Are As Gods, details his work and how it has shaped our world. While this documentary has plenty of great talking points and interviews, it is mildly bogged down by how it jumps around between ideas.
In this documentary, we learn about the upbringing of Brand, his early work, and the many projects he involved with now. Despite being in his eighties, Brand is still incredibly vital and involved in his communities, and this documentary is able to go into detail on that. We learn about his work with The Whole Earth Catalog and his current work with de-extinction. He has had a rich life, and this documentary explores its subject very well.
Directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg are able to boil down Brand’s career to a few major talking points. It doesn’t nearly exhaust how much Brand has accomplished, but for a 95-minute film, it does a pretty good job. They typically are strong with their pacing of scenes, but there are times where other sections are much speedier than others, and it can throw off the momentum a bit. This is a minor flaw, and most of the film is pretty consistent in this regard.
Brand himself is a fascinating subject. He has such a unique mind, and his thoughts are thought-provoking and inspiring. What’s most exciting is to hear him discuss de-extinction and its potential benefits. A lot of the movie deals with his work to revive the woolly mammoth from extinction, and it’s amazing to hear Brand get lost in this world and really thrive. Even though he may be fairly old, he has a great screen presence that adds a lot to the film.
The movie is also fairly impartial. Brand was an intellectually provocative man, and he challenged and questioned a lot of concepts while also introducing some equally controversial opinions. The movie doesn’t frame him as a flawless mind, but it also gives some insight into his opponents. This allows the ideas to be mulled over and contemplated rather than merely accepted. This definitely helps with the mental engagement of the film as well as strengthening its rhetoric.
The most interesting aspect of this film was his work with de-extinction and how it could potentially prevent the melting of the permafrost in certain areas. However, the film also explores a lot of his other work. We learn about how without him, we may have never seen the first photograph of Earth from space as soon as we did. He was a man that always wanted to learn more, question the world around him, and challenge the world to feel more self-aware about how they influence the Earth.
While this film has some great content, it often jumps around between its ideas in a way that is off-putting. It’s not confusing, but it is a noticeable creative choice that takes away from each individual aspect of the documentary. I also felt like it could have gone into more detail especially in regard to his exciting work with de-extinction. Regardless, this is an enjoyable film that will change how you view yourself and the world, and it’s one that will hopefully resonate with many.
Brand said, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it”. This is a movie that may not fully explore its subject, but it is one that provides great context to that famous quote of his. After watching this, it will be easy to see how influential Brand has been to our society and our pursuit of knowledge. To quote the back cover of the final Whole Earth Catalog, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
We Are As Gods was set to screen at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.
Stewart Brand has been at the forefront of multiple societal trends since the 1960s, and now he’s trying to bring back the woolly mammoth and other species from extinction.
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