environment film

Schumacher on film: videos

Fritz Schumacher only made one film. Two months before he died, he traveled to Western Australia to make an ecological documentary called ‘On the edge of the forest‘. It’s about deforestation, and shows the clear-cutting of ancient woodlands for paper pulp.

The film was never screened in the UK, and was pretty much lost for 30 years. Schumacher’s daughter Nicola re-discovered it on a Beta-max tape about three years ago, a rather intriguing historical artefact.

In style, the film is very much a product of its time. It’s full of very slow pans and long shots of Fritz standing reflectively looking at trees. To be honest it takes a fair degree of patience to watch the whole thing. It’s still effective in places however, and it’s easy to see why it kicked off a major debate when it was shown in Australia. The scenes of saw-mills in particular convey a real sense of waste. “It will take 400 years for the forest to replace that log” says Fritz as a large tree is reduced to chippings, “surely we owe it to our great great grandchildren to see that the use to which the timber is put will last at least until its replacement is ready to be felled.” The whole programme is online here, and here’s a excerpt or two:

In 1977 Schumacher was officially retired and free from the day job at the Coal Board, but working harder than ever. He took to the road with the message that industrial nations were on an unsustainable path, and with Small is Beautiful turning out to be a bestseller, audiences were receptive and he was booked up two years in advance. The relentless travel was exhausting, but he believed the message was too urgent to slow down. (The schedule took its toll, and he died of a heart attack on a train between speaking engagements in Switzerland in September)

Among his tours that year was a six week coast to coast speaking tour of the US, including a visit to the White House to speak to Jimmy Carter. Some 60,000 people heard him speak, and a number of the speeches were filmed. This video is from that tour, recorded at the University of Illinois. Schumacher argues that when new technologies are adopted, the economics are considered and often the health and safety considerations. Four additional questions are needed for any technology: What is its relevance to poverty? What is its relevance to the mental and spiritual health of humankind? What does it do to living nature around us? What is the relation of this technology to the energy problem?

He also does a wonderfully deadpan deconstruction of a Panasonic advert at the end (see this video for the conclusion of that line of thought.)

From the same tour, and a Q and A session. This one’s notable for the humour – Schumacher appears to have been a more engaging speaker than writer, where he’s more formal. You also get a sense of his guru status from the audience response. He was very much a cult figure by this time, and they seem to be hanging on his every word. This adulation was a mixed blessing. Schumacher himself often had to defend or clarify his ‘small is beautiful’ statement as it was oversimplified and applied in all sorts of ways that he hadn’t intended. (As Andrew Simms recently explained, it’s about appropriate scale rather than smallness per se.)

I also like his admission about his Buddhist Economics principles: “I could have called it Christian Economics, but then no one would have read it.”

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