For Filmmaker Anne de Carbuccia, The Earth Needs Its Protectors

Anne de Carbuccia. Contributed photo.

Director Anne de Carbuccia, an environmental artist, philanthropist, and filmmaker, is something of a force of nature, and her new film Earth Protectors is likewise a tour de force of a documentary. Streaming in February 2024 on Apple TV+ and Prime Video, Earth Protectors depicts the work of young environmentalists and activists across the world whose work is dedicated to mitigating the impact of humans on climate change. But her documentary is far, far more than a mere exercise in profiling others. It’s a personal, artistic, and humanitarian endeavor.

de Carbuccia began this project through her own artwork. She travels the world documenting human-caused ecological change in her TimeShrines, temporary installations that preserve the memory of endangered places, animals, and cultures. Wherever she goes, she collaborates with locals—guides, scientists, activists, etc.—whom she calls the “Earth Protectors.” They teach her (and us) about their home region and the environmental impacts each has suffered.

Earth Protectors is a complex film, charting de Carbuccia’s installations and travels as she profiles the young people committed to environmentalism and sustainability. From her home in Italy, de Carbuccia spoke to Film Obsessive Publisher J Paul Johnson about her art, her film, and her future projects. Enjoy the video on our YouTube channel or scroll below for an edited transcript of the conversation.

J Paul Johnson: Before we get into the topic of your film, Anne, can you just tell us a little bit first about your work as an artist and your TimeShrines project?

Anne de Carbuccia: Hi, Paul. A lot of people have put me in the category of environmental artist because I try as much as I can to give a voice to our planet, to the biosphere in general. It’s an endangered species: animals and locations and our ocean, of course, and everything that’s linked to our planet. So I consider myself an artist, but a lot of people consider me an environmental artist. And I worked on a project for a little bit over ten years called the TimeShrine Series.

What I did is that I left my studio and went around the world and tried to document, in an artistic way, our planet. I would go around the planet and create these installations that I called the TimeShrines in situ. In these locations, I actually would go there. And there was a whole process of me going there, going to these places. The people that I would meet, the pilgrimage to get to these locations,  I never really know if I chose them or they chose me—and then I would create an installation there.

And the way I would create the installation is that I would always have these two human symbols. One is the hourglass, which is one of our most ancient ways of calculating time. And the other one is what I call a vanity. A vanity is the representation of a human skull, but it’s not at all a symbol of death. It’s a very, very ancient symbol. A symbol that is a symbol of choice, really. And I re-appropriated this symbol because, you know, it’s been used by artists since the night of time, both in Eastern and Western art. And it’s really about, yes, it’s true we are mortal and, you know, we need to be reminded of that. But more than anything, what we need to think about every day when we get up is the fact that we have a choice. We can choose whoever we are, wherever we come from. Whatever our situation is, we have a choice of how we’re going to live our day. You know, we can choose whether we want like a positive and productive life or a superficial, vain life, thus the term vanity. And I thought that this was a very interesting concept and it was used in all different historical periods.

Anne de Carbuccia works on an installation on a beach.
Anne de Carbuccia works on a TimeShrines Installation in Earth Protectors. Photo: courtesy One Planet One Future Productions.

And I think that we’re in this incredible moment of great transition for our species. And I thought that therefore, this symbology and everything that it can remind us of the choices we have to make, both as a species and as individuals, was very important. Besides those two symbols, I would always add on different things from organic elements. Or if I was collaborating with a tribe, you know, some tribal pieces that they would either gift or or let me borrow for the installation. I photographed these images all over. I finished the project after ten years. It was very intense and it was obviously extremely fruitful. And more than anything, it made me grow so much and it made me learn so many things. My own way of closing this very important moment for me in my lifespan was to make a film out of it.

I’m so fascinated by the project and I have so many questions about it. How did you know when you were done? How many TimeShrines have you made?

I think I’ve made over 100. And so I don’t think I would have ever been done if I hadn’t decided to be done because the planet is constantly evolving. Obviously, I went to a lot of locations and didn’t go to all locations. I could eventually tell you that I could probably end up going to Mars or the moon to make one. So it could have been endless. But I think that I needed for myself, for my evolution and more than anything to kind of close this because it was very intense, very often very difficult. I don’t consider myself an activist, but I collaborated with a lot of activists and all that was a lot to process and I had to find a way of closing that whole moment in time. And my way of doing it was by doing the film.

I’m really astounded to hear that it’s that many. Close to the end of the film we see a montage of them. There must be close to 30. They’re all gorgeous—and they’re simultaneously evocative and harrowing. I had no idea there were quite so many. And it’s such a complex undertaking. Some of them I imagine, must have taken a considerable amount of time to complete.

Not really. I think there was the research before, so I mean, obviously I can talk about this for hours because there’s so much going on with the whole concept. But, you know, sometimes I wouldn’t choose where I was going and sometimes I did. So sometimes I would meet people and they would be like, well, I’ve seen you, please come to my country, come to my location. There’s, there’s a story there and I would like to help you document it.

Most of the time you put photography in two categories, whether it’s documentative or whether it’s artistic and the expression of an idea of mine. I like to think that [the TimeShrines] are kind of both because I’m actually documenting. Because I’m going to these places and these are real places, and there’s no photo montage about the art. I actually go there, create the installation, and then photograph it. But obviously, it’s also creative because I am creating this installation there and the result is the photograph of the installation.

Anne de Carbuccia and Earth Protetors on a beach.
The “Earth Protectors.” Photo: courtesy One Planet One Future Productions.

There were places I decided to go to like Everest and the Maldives to document trash because I went to show extremes. But there were a lot of places that I was invited to go to because I just met the right people, because they got it and they wanted to help me do it. I worked with a lot of animals obviously. You know, they’re like children. They don’t have a lot of patience. So sometimes some of the shoots would last like 10 minutes and you just have to be lucky. And so it was more like the whole process of getting there than actually creating the installation. And very often, because of the fact that I work outdoors, you know, the sun, the light, the weather, everything, you just have to work really fast, create the installation, photograph it, perhaps come back the next day. Again, these are very often very remote locations.

But, you know, for example, one of my hardest installations was the one I did at the United Nations in New York. And the reason is that I had just one day on location, installation and photographed it. And it was for women empowerment back in 2016. And I created on the day where they had the biggest blizzard, but it was so hard to get the permits. That that was the day I was never going to get probably another opportunity. So I had to create my installation with all these vortex winds blowing around. I was in New York and you would have thought it would have been easier than going to Cambodia. So again, that’s the whole issue about working outdoors.

Well, when our viewers have an opportunity to see the film, they’ll learn of other places to which you’ve traveled and the work that you invest in those TimeShrine installations, which really is remarkable. And then aside from traveling, aside from doing the installations and aside from photographing them for the exhibitions that you’re going to do following them, then there’s the additional complexity of making a film about this process. At what point in your continuum did you decide to make the film about this work and then simultaneously engage the people that you call “Earth Protectors”?

Well, what was very interesting is that after a couple of years, there was this pattern that came out which was very striking. It was first of all, how much I learned, how much I discovered, And, you know, I was somebody who was quite sensitive to climate breakdown and endangered species and everything else. And yet there was so much that I was discovering going on location. So this idea that once you’re on the ground, things look and are revealed in a very different light.

And then there was the fact that I was meeting these incredible people and a lot of them were quite young and they were obviously on the front line of climate change, climate breakdown. And they were adapting. And very often in a very positive and rich, constructive way. That was very humbling for me because it was really seeing these realities that very often in the global north, we kind of have the luxury to just discuss over dinner parties. And seeing it happening and its dire consequences very often and seeing the resilience of these people became bigger than my art. And it became like a bigger story than my little kind of artists, a bit obsessive and centered on themselves and that suddenly they were like, poof, you know, like this huge, much bigger story.

And I really felt that I wanted to share that. I want to not only share what I’ve learned and seen because I figured that if somebody like me didn’t know these things, a lot of other people didn’t either. And also really give a voice to these people because it’s actually happening to them. And very often you get the scientific perspective, or you get, you know, like the global North perspective. Or you get these well minded people who want to narrate something. But you know, it’s them narrating the story. It’s not those people narrating it. And I thought that was really, really important to give them a voice and let them lead the way and tell the story.

Well, the film does that! And I love that along the way we get to meet perhaps a dozen people that you worked with very closely and who are working themselves in different ways to protect the planet. That again, strikes me as a really complex project to undertake in that you are simultaneously one of the subjects of the documentary, you are host for a chunk of the documentary. But you’re also the director of the documentary. And I’m just wondering from a filmmaking perspective, how do you see your role as the director here?

Well, directing the film was really this very organic process. Because at the beginning, I wasn’t even thinking about doing a film. I was filming because I needed to prove that what I was doing was real because a lot of people were doubting it. And so it started out organically and then it became, again, as I was saying, I really wanted to create this film about it. And I felt that I was the only one who could really direct it. Because I had this really strong vision and I still do, and I have this very strong vision of what the messages should be, what I learned, what people didn’t know. And I was passionate and I was very intense about it. And so I didn’t feel that anybody else could have translated that except for me.

So it was really hard because obviously I’d never directed a film, I had only done written and directed short documentaries. And obviously it’s very different to do a feature. And actually I had not planned at all on being in the film. I was going to write it and direct. And obviously the writing was very organic also because it was all these interviews, and these meetings, and all these things that happened. It’s not like I had like a script, a prescript to it. But then we realized while we were editing that to bring everybody together from all different parts of the world, from Siberia to the Amazon. It made sense to have me come in as a narrative to connect everybody. Because one of the main themes of the film, the underlying main theme of the film is, is that everything’s connected and interconnected.

And yes, I’m showing you different parts of the world and yes, I’m showing you different actions and different types of people, but they’re all recounting the same story. And so that’s when we realized that in terms of editing and in terms of flow to create a good flow through the film, it made sense to bring me in as a narrator to help connect everybody. I was at the beginning a bit miffed about that because I didn’t plan on being in it.

I did want to ask you about a moment in the film where there’s a young man at one of your presentations who presents you with a pretty challenging complaint. It’s one I’m sure you’ve heard before, that we’re not offering any real solution to save the planet. That your generation, my generation older than your generation, has already done much damage. That we may be in this era of the Anthropocene, too far along to take actions that will reverse our current course. He’s in the film, I assume, because you think he has a point and one that needs to be addressed.

Absolutely. I think he’s got a very important point. And it was very interesting because I have this foundation in this educational project (The One Planet One Future Foundation). It was interesting to see the type of interventions before climate action and youth for climate started it. A movement that was already moving and shaping before Fridays for the Future. I thought that was historically interesting to document that as well and point out that this is not like a couple of young individuals doing something on their own. This was something that a lot of that generations are thinking about.

To me personally, intergenerational human rights are something that is extremely important and it’s something that I address a lot in my educational project. It’s something that I mentioned in the film. But as you can imagine, I couldn’t talk about, I couldn’t go deep into all these kind of smaller subject matters compared to the rest of the narrative of the film.

Young people protest at a Fridays for the Future event.
Youth protest at Fridays for the Future. Photo: courtesy One Planet One Future Productions.

But now I’m doing a series. I’ve been asked to do a series, and that’s going to be like a 52-minute episodes, really linked to intergenerational human rights. The fact that the next generation needs to be aware of what’s going on and what the generation before that are not doing and how they can act upon that. Because I think that what’s really, really important is to avoid radicalization and keep communication and flow going between generations. And I really want to support that generation because they’re going to have to deal with the law. And I think it’s important that all of us be aware of that.

A lot of people don’t think about the fact that these kids are being brought up and will evolve in an environment in nature. And they’re not going to have the same opportunities and they’re not going to have the same quality of life that we’ve had. It’s because of the decisions we’re not taking right now. And that’s extremely unfair. And it needs to be addressed because we need to avoid radicalization.

The people that you profile in your film strike me as having hope and optimism for the future, but that’s guided by their principles and by their action. I’m really enthused to hear that there will also be a series. Can you say just a little bit more about that? Watching the film, it  occurred to me, this is so rich in its tapestry, weaving together the narratives of your sojourns and each individual Earth Protector, I thought there’s enough material here that this could easily be a docuseries.

Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s work in progress, but I have over 200 hours of footage and obviously every place had this incredible story. And I’m an artist, but I’m also an anthropologist by formation when some of the producers who saw the film came back to me and said that they felt that this could potentially be a great series that started making me think about how we could do that. The film, Earth Protectors is a feature film that’s been thought out for a very diverse public from age five to 85, or 105 or 125. It’s really meant to create awareness and it’s really meant to make people realize what’s going on. It’s not an artistic film. It’s a film made by an artist. So I try to make it as accessible as possible.

Obviously with the series, I can go more artistic and deeper in every subject matter. So there’s a more artistic side. There will be a more artistic side in the series. There will be a more anthropological side because obviously there’s a lot of things that I’ve documented that are disappearing and that are not going to be around by 2050. And so I think it’s also important to  document that aspect. And I’m very interested in creating this series, obviously, that will be reviewed and seen before it’ll come out in 2025.

But I’m making this series for the people who will watch it in 2050. So I’m conceiving this series for the people who will watch it in the future. I put this date of 2050 because everybody’s talking about that date. And so it will be kind of like a message for the future, for the people who watch it in the future. But also a way of showing you and proving to you what we knew. Because we’re also living in the era of fake news and, you know, everything is confusing. And so I hope it will remain an historical and anthropological document of what we knew, what we hoped, what we wanted to do, and then only they will know if we did it. That’s the concept behind the series.

It’s a lot bigger than the film. Wish me luck. I mean, I’ve just started with the pilot, so hopefully it’ll work.

I do wish you the very best of luck with that project. Again, Earth Protectors is your film. It is debuting on streaming, I’m told, on Prime Video and Apple TV+ in February. Is there anything else you’d like to say about where it’s appearing, where people might see it, or what you hope they might glean from it?

Well, I really hope that, you know, as many people as possible will watch the film. Because obviously it’s not a film that I made to please you, to please people, but it was made with a lot of love and especially a lot of love for our planet. And I hope that people will feel that and I hope they’ll gain something from it. It’s obviously a film that was also conceived to make you feel like we can still act. And there’s so much we can do as individuals. And I give so many examples in the film. Again, it’s really, the film is not about trying to change you, it’s just about trying to say, well, use who you are and what you’re good at to make the difference, really. And hopefully that will come across.

I think it will, and I’m looking forward to more people seeing it. Thank you again for visiting us at Film Obsessive today and best of luck with the film and best of luck with your series following it and with everything you do.

Thank you, Paul.

Written by J Paul Johnson

J Paul Johnson is Publisher of Film Obsessive. A professor emeritus of film studies and an avid cinephile, collector, and curator, his interests range from classical Hollywood melodrama and genre films to world and independent cinemas and documentary.

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