There is one reason, above all the others, that the Academy Awards are not worth paying any attention to this year: the documentary Dreamland is not up for best picture, best documentary, or best anything.
Once every five to ten years a film comes along that shakes your soul, rattles the cage of your conscience, and awakes you from a media-immersed cryogenic dream state. The technical perfection and power of the message rearrange the synopsis in your circuitry and leaves you feeling like a wave of clarity and inspiration has washed over you. This sermon on the mount, the audiovisual awakening that has knocked me from safe and comfortable passage into a world I had temporarily forgotten was there, is the magnificent breathtaking political documentary Dreamland.
Dreamland asks us how much is a mountain worth? Two billion? Twenty billion? Then challenges the capitalism calculi that conjures these figures, re-orienting the audience toward another framework, one of eco-logic, and argues for 89 minutes that the value of the natural world is of course not measured in dollars, or barrels, or extractions. The value of the natural world we inhabit is immeasurable: it is beauty, harmony, health, co-existence and much, much more.
If I’m sounding like a hippy that’s likely because three viewings of this documentary from Iceland have changed my purview. It’s not that I didn’t give a damn about ecology before Dreamland, it’s just that this film was the much-needed kick in the ass that I required. Dreamland is like a drug: a truth serum that wrestles memories out of their webs, that beautifully captures the “reality” of the natural world, and that connects our fears with our needs with our wants. The fear of the antithesis of progress – of simply preserving and protecting the environment because its value is immeasurable; the need to push for a kind of progress defined and managed by elites who have disdain for the natural world and who answer to constituencies, not rivers, rocks, tundras, the hooved and the winged; and the want, as it is articulated by CEOs attracting politicians attracting large amounts of small pieces of paper with abstract symbols on them.
Dreamland is a documentary like no other. This 2009 film by Þorfinnur Guðnason & Andri Snær Magnason is a visual treatise that exposes the greed and corruption that has befallen Iceland like a plague of myopic and avaricious infection of the mind and heart. It is a poem to the natural world and speaks for ecology through stunning cinematography and the pacing of a practiced orchestra.
Dreamland shows us how mining multinationals and hydro-electric companies have steered Iceland toward a precipice of pillage. The country already produces more than enough energy for its 300,000 inhabitants, but Alcoa (based out of Montreal) and politicians in Iceland see resources that exist without intervention as willful waste and neglect. There is money to be made, and through massive mining operations as well as monstrous hydro-electric projects, the corporate and political elite argue, Iceland can have more, much much more. But what is needed when the country’s needs are met and the people live in one of the most beautiful and pristine environments in the world?
The documentary powerfully examines the psychology of fear that leads to progress and consumerism that leads to apathy and support for the eco-criminals currently destroying Iceland’s natural world. And the film, through gorgeous photography and a perfectly complimentary soundtrack, inspires, provokes and dare I say initiates change.
It is telling of this film’s potency that I left the cinema in Amsterdam back in November full of rage, but also full of plans. Rage at the injustice and immoral acts that I had bared witness to. But plans, inspired by the moving argument played out so politically and emotionally on the screen, to be a better environmentalist. And that the story I had seen was about a country so far removed from my immediate reality, yet I was so compelled to change and effect change, further illustrates the powerful masterpiece that is Dreamland.
Dreamland is an experience, and one that you do not sleep through. Once this film grabs hold of you, it is a tight and cathartic embrace that does not end when the lights go up. It is one of the most important and powerful documentaries I have ever seen, and deserves not just an Oscar, but a place in every person’s conscience – a reminder of who we have been, but also who we can be, what we have and why it is worth fighting for.
To learn more and join in the fight for Iceland’s natural world, visit SavingIceland.org.