I ventured out on Thursday evening to see the second “World Premiere” (Edinburgh actually pipped us to the post the night before) of the documentary Living Proof.
It dealt with looking at Scotland’s growth under Capitalism over the past 150 years, but concentrated on the rate of growth from post-WWII. Also the way Scotland has dealt with its climate, in good and bad, for the past 150 years and the ramifications of tapping into its apparently abundant natural resources – but at what ultimate cost?
The presentation of the film started with a short introduction from the film’s director, Emily Monro, about what the film’s main objective was.
The film starts with a broad outline and visual run-through of what the film will be exploring in closer detail. A rush through the past 100+ years of Scotland’s environmental history – with a musical backdrop from the wonderful Louise Connell. Louise was there herself to watch the film. She had also been there to see it the previous night in Edinburgh.
We start with a look at post-war Scotland and the richness of treasures that industrial juggernauts see in it. All for the good on the surface, with the talk of capitalising on those natural resources with hydroelectricity implemented in the Highlands.
We continue on from there, looking at things from the farming of peat from bogs to coal mining, to North Sea oil drilling and gas harvesting.
It quickly feels like we are just plundering something that we should have realised much earlier on is only finite! We as humans have somewhat blighted Scotland’s landscape by being swept up into the kind of “corporate greed” model of “improving” our lives. Some things done with the initial view of being better for everyone, for example, the hydroelectric schemes in the Highlands, have actually had negative repercussions. And we can’t escape the fact that the mining industry and the drilling of North Sea oil has had a massive impact environmentally.
The film also looks into the decline of the shipbuilding industry. The shipbuilding docks try to move themselves forward by becoming the construction areas for the North Sea oil rigs. That was the most eye-opening and jaw-dropping aspect of the film for me. As one of the oil rigs had completed its first part of construction – its base, the foundation platform that will be plunged into the sea bed, just what a feat of engineering that it is. It’s hard to reconcile being marvalled by all that. To see this human constructed metal monolith making its way out of the Clyde firth in outrageously stormy seas to be slowly upended from its side to start being (weather permitting!) slowly, painstakingly, millimetre by millimetre hammered into the sea bed. It was both astonishing and gut-wrenching in equal measure.
Conoco was the company in question building the massive offshore oil rigs, taking advantage of the docks left empty from the Clyde shipbuilding that went asunder. Watching that footage with a genuine mix of awe and lament.
The film also takes a look into selling Scotland as an “attractive” prospect for investment and having some American firms come over and set up bases here – like the big Digital Equipment factory in Ayr. I remember as we made our way down the west coast towards Girvan a few months back being struck by how many huge factories there were along that part of the Ayrshire coast between Ayr and Girvan – particularly from Turnburry to Girvan. But then, why should I be surprised? Turnberry just for starters has a Trump stamp all over it!
Towards the end of the film we look at the take up of wind turbines and wind farms. Earlier in the film there is a bit about how ubiquitous and reliant upon metal we are for things. Like, it is in our lives EVERYWHERE. And you can’t help but in the end see the irony of the wind turbines being these monstrous metal contraptions and it all just cycles round. And that was the crux of the film’s point (well it was for me personally, anyway) – how do we get out of this loop? How do we get out of the capitalist “hamster wheel” (for want of better terminology)? Can we actually even do it? Are we too far down the line with things? Are we far too reliant on it all to not see any other way out? How do we really make REAL CHANGE?
The film finished with a Q and A with a panel of guests including the film’s director Emily Monro. One question asked of Emily was how she thought the film would be received by non-Scots? Emily found it not an easy question to respond to, but if I had responded to it (as I will do now) – I think it’s a universal problem and dilemma. Although the things within the film are entirely Scotland based, all the world’s countries are going through these same problems and going through the same questions. For some countries in the world, the crisis is a lot more profound than what Scotland is going through. So I think it can resonate and speak to people whether they live here or not. It really isn’t a thing that affects Scotland exclusively, the broader aspects of the climate crisis.
It was pieced together so well by Emily and the final beach scene and dialogue ends on a really harrowing, pondering note. And the soundtrack used within it featured music wonderfully chosen. I will link to the tracks used through the film below.
It was sobering viewing and I’m not sure I have any answers for it myself. Let us see what COP26 brings to us in November. Let’s just see how Glasgow copes with hosting such a summit, for one.