[DCEFF] 'Going Circular' (2021) Film Review

Sydney Bollinger reviews Going Circular (2021) for DCEFF30. The film features for changemakers working on developing a circular economy.

[DCEFF] 'Going Circular' (2021) Film Review
Arthur Huang, architect and engineer

by Sydney Bollinger

Climate change isn’t going to be solved easily. There’s no way it can be — the crisis encompasses most, if not all, of the earth’s other crises and will require large-scale change to our economic and governmental systems if we want to see any possible mitigation. This isn’t to say we are doomed — we aren’t — but it is to say that effectively saving our planet will require more than reusable grocery bags and backyard composting.

Going Circular (2021) offers a look into the much-needed alternative: a circular economy. While the idea of a circular economy may be familiar to those in environmental and climate activism circles, the phrase still receives a lot of pushback from people who don’t recognize the term nor understand what it actually means insofar as systems change.

Throughout the documentary, directors Richard Dale and Nigel Walk focus on the experiences of four individuals working to create a circular economy: James Lovelock, the creator of Gaia theory; Arthur Huang, an architect and engineer focused on zero-waste, sustainable structures; Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute; and John Fullerton, a former Wall Street executive. Each of the film’s subjects adds a different perspective to the issue and offers their own thoughts regarding how to achieve a circular economy.

While the film’s goal is easy to see — introduce and inform viewers about a circular economy and why it’s necessary — Going Circular is unable to clearly articulate what a circular economy would look like globally. Instead, the film zooms in on the actions of its four subjects. While their work is interesting, it doesn’t seem collaborative in a meaningful way. Lovelock, Huang, Benyus, and Fullerton’s efforts on a circular economy appear siloed from each other. While they may mention each other’s names — Lovelock’s is mentioned most often by the other interviewees — the four do not seem to actually work together on change.

Despite this, the film is still enjoyable. Huang’s work, in particular, is fascinating and the filmmakers’ choice to focus on some of his projects — such as a house whose furnishings and other objects are made entirely of trash and a hospital ward made completely from recycled material — show what implementing a circular economy moving forward might look like. The architect’s vision transcends what seems to be possible, especially in a world where we have been accustomed to just throwing things away.

Lovelock and Benyus also had interesting perspectives. Benyus’s work on biomimicry astounds and more time devoted to some of her projects would have been beneficial. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to discern what exactly Fullerton’s role is in rounding out the group of four. He advocates for a circular economy, but unlike Lovelock, Benyus, and Huang, does not have a concrete connection to the issue in the documentary.

Going Circular, though, is an important documentary. The only way humanity will achieve a circular economy is if more people get on board to make the necessary changes to be a  better, more just world. This film is perfect for anyone interested in the idea or who wants a primer on the concept. Additionally, it’s a source of hope. A circular economy is possible and the work of Lovelock, Benyus, Huang, and Fullerton make that known.

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