‘Time to Choose’
Director: Charles Ferguson
3 (out of 5) Globes
A funny thing happens about 10 minutes into the climate change doc “Time to Choose.” (Well, it’s not funny, per se. This is a doc on climate change, after all.) We’ve been fed (by special celeb narrator Oscar Isaac, no less) the usual despairingly familiar bad news: rising temperatures and sea levels, threats of submerged cities, a lack of action and aggravated naysayers poisoning the conversation. There’s a cottage industry of doomsday docs, reminding us of all the ways we're going to die and horribly. Sometimes the concerned citizen, no matter how woke, can only slump in their chair, adding another ailment to their long list of worries.
But then that funny/not-exactly-funny thing comes: The tone changes and Oscar Isaac and a gallery of talking heads are suddenly talking solutions. “Time to Choose,” the latest Big Problem doc by Charles Ferguson (“No End in Sight,” about Iraq; “Inside Job,” about the 2008 economic catastrophe), didn’t have to do this. It could have been a simple reminder that, its sizable box office haul and all, we never quite heeded the warnings painstakingly and charmingly laid out by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth.” We saw climate change awareness as a trend, and then the bad guy deniers struck back. So here we are again.
Instead “Time to Choose” is not that. It’s quick to turn positive, to point that, no, the point of no return is not (yet) upon us. Whereas the only thing to soothe us in “An Inconvenient Truth” was Gore’s atypically jocular tone, Ferguson and his interviewees have real solutions to turn back the tide. Sometimes they’re old fixes — electric cars, sun panels, windfarms — but, Ferguson and company point out, they’re growing in popularity and, even better, declining in price. The tone adopted by famous faces like Jerry Brown, Jane Goodall and Michael Pollan isn’t hectoring; it’s can-do, hoping to get you on board not by scaring you but by pointing to actual silver lining.
They’re so upbeat, in fact, that parts of “Time to Choose” almost play like an infomercial — the world’s most necessary infomercial, but still. (It’s helpful to learn the name of one solar panel company, Sungevity, but it also unavoidably smacks of product placement.) Ferguson counters this by doing what few docs do, especially ones with an agenda: It offers a relentless assault of beautiful or at least arresting images. Taking a page from Godfrey Reggio (particularly “Koyaanisqatsi”), it unleashes an army of first-rate cinematographers to film all over the planet in rapturous cinemascope. Many are helicopter shots, some are on the ground. Cities and nature get equal love, all while the score keeps circling back to a hypnotic Philip Glass-y drone.
And Ferguson still remembers to sometimes not be positive, to point to new calamities. Palm oil, it turns out, is the devil, while a sojourn to Makoko, a “floating city” in Nigeria with no electricity but plenty of crime and corruption, is a harrowing reminder of what could become a global standard. If “Time to Choose” is to be seen as “An Inconvenient Truth 2,” it’s at least a next-level sequel, and hopefully even a game-changer for docs that vie for real, needed change amidst the gloom.