One one level, the concept of the documentary film Earth Protectors is elegantly simple. In a time when the impact of humans has led to devastating fires, floods, pollution, storms, and a paralyzing pandemic, it is the young who are working to save our planet with dedication, intelligence, and ambition: they are the “Earth Protectors.” As scientists, activists, and humanitarians they have taken the lead in the fight to save the planet from potentially irreversible, catastrophic change.
On another level, the film’s production is astonishingly complex. Director Anne de Carbuccia is an environmental artist and multi-hyphenate. Her medium is installation, documenting human-caused ecological change with what she calls TimeShrines, temporary installations that like memento mori document and preserve the memory of endangered places, animals, and cultures. Using, routinely, a human skull, an hourglass, and objects found from each location—a whalebone, shells, tribal ornaments, etc.—de Carbuccia composes an artistic creation in each site that call to mind a still life documenting the passing of time in a now-uninhabitable setting. The young protagonists she calls the “Earth Protectors” often assist her, guiding her in learning about the region and the environmental impacts each has suffered. She then photographs each installation, later making large-scale prints for exhibition around the world.
Given that her installations and their production are themselves an extraordinary undertaking, requiring travel around the world, to extraordinarily and often dangerous remote locations, an understanding of each region’s environmental change, and an artist’s eye for composition and detail, de Carbuccia’s work is on its own remarkable. Her artwork has been exhibited in museums across Europe and the U.S.
Then, though, there is the additional complexity of filming the process. De Carbuccia travels with just two cinematographers and one sound technician, mindful of the carbon footprint of her work. Together, they make Earth Protectors a visually remarkable, stunning film, one that charts both the impeccable beauty, the awesome majesty of nature and the grim realities of its devastation. Earth Protectors, as a highly personal, even poetic documentary elegantly guides novice viewers through de Carbuccia’s passion for environmental causes, her commitment to her artistic vision, and her collaborations with each of the various “Protectors” we meet on different continents, doing so throughout with a consistency and clarity of presentation.
It may feel a bit to miss the point of Earth Protectors to comment on the film’s technical merits. Those are in one way beside the point of the film’s focus on the people committed to saving the Earth. But there’s no denying that Earth Protectors is a tour de force of cinematography. Shots that last even for only a second or two are artfully composed, as is each interview. Equally as impressive is the remarkable camera and sound work capturing the film’s smaller moments as de Carbuccia cautiously navigates a narrow ravine on a small burro, bails water from her leaking canoe, or learns the true purpose of the machete her guide carries in the Amazon.
The “Earth Protectors” de Carbuccia meets along the way are impassioned and dedicated. A young man named Tashi Bista whose village in Nepal has been been decimated and abandoned by glacial melting works now as a documentarian and activist. Jared Cairuna Kauper, a park ranger in the Amazon forests of Peru, coordinates volunteers there to deliver medicine to the locals impacted by deforestation. Dasha Filippova starts a school program for rangers and volunteers on the Kamchatka Peninsula of eastern Russia. Max Sevchenko uses social media to highlight the fragility of Lake Baikal in Siberia. Mariasole Bianco works with NGO Worldrise to ensure the preservation of Italy’s seas. Lilliana Rodrigueez Cortes does the same in coastal Yucatan, where a sargasso of seaweed invades the Gulf of Mexico nearly unabated. Alexandria Villaseñor’s foundation Earth Uprising educates and inspires American youth to take on sustainability efforts. And climate scientist Dr. Julie Pullen works to develop a science-based initiative to sustain the life-supporting capacity of the oceans across the Earth.
They are the Earth Protectors, everyday real-life superheroes, and throughout de Carbuccia collaborates with them, is inspired by them, and documents their efforts to forestall or perhaps even reverse the impact of climate change. They are a diverse lot, from every walk of life and scattered across the continents, but each of them shares a passion for and a commitment to achieving change. The point is clear: any one of us has the capacity to effect change. Each Earth Protector could have been the subject of their own feature or docu-series episode, but de Carbuccia ties together her travels with their stories to give Earth Protectors its unique, compelling focus.
Born in New York and raised in Paris, where her father was a colleague of Jacques Cousteau, de Carbuccia studied anthropology and art history at Columbia University. It was a long process that led her to make Earth Protectors. At first, she left the quiet of her studio to document the palpable change taking place across the world; then, in part as a response to those who doubted the veracity of her installations, she began filming the process of making them, and little by little, those separate journeys became the basic fabric of the film, gradually coming to focus on those who accompanied her in each setting, the protectors of the Earth’s land, air, and seas.
As Earth Protectors concludes, a montage of her photographed installations documents—with over 30 separate images, each of them simultaneously stunning and appalling, mementos mori for the Anthropocene era—flashes across the screen, sober reminders of what once was and what needs be done. Today, de Carbuccia’s work is on permanent exhibition in at Westbeth Center for the Arts in New York City and in Milan, Italy. Her One Planet One Future Foundation raises awareness about climate breakdown and the dangers of the Anthropocene and inspires individual and collective action through art, films, and exhibitions. With Earth Protectors, a documentary that is as profound as it is poetic, as inspiring as it is impassioned, her advocacy, artwork, and activism is poised to reach new audiences.
Earth Protectors will be available to stream on Prime Video and Apple TV+ in February 2024.