Directed by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee and Gayatri Roshan
Elemental traces the stories of three very different eco-warriors. In India, the catastrophic pollution of the Ganges now affects the lives and health of millions; one determined but soft-spoken government official, Rajendra Singh, has made it his mission to clean this historic, mythic river and educate a surprisingly resistant public about it. In northern Canada, the massive Tar Sands oil deposit and the industrial pollution and expansion associated with it are threatening indigenous territories and may be responsible for an increase in cancer rates; a headstrong Dene, Native American Eriel Deranger, is crusading to stop the proposed 2,000-mile Keystone pipeline. Meanwhile, in Australia, the inventor Jay Harman, who admits that he feels a greater kinship to nature than to people, looks for investors to fund his mad-scientist-like projects, including a revolutionary “atmospheric mixer” he says can combat global warming.
Each story has its own tenor: The devastation of the Ganges is stomach turning, and one marvels at the perseverance of a government official who confronts such opposition to doing the right thing. Closer to home, the Tar Sands activist Deranger’s fiery personality can rub people the wrong way: We don’t always know what to think of her, and that makes for engaging cinema. Harman’s journey may be less dramatic, but the possibilities that his project inspires are profound: Here’s someone you want to see succeed.
It’s an odd choice to bring together these seemingly unconnected characters. Obviously their environmentalism unites them, but Elemental is really about persistence: In these three approaches to monumental environmental concerns, what we’re really seeing are three very different ways of solving a problem. To their credit, the directors bring these figures down to earth, presenting them as humans first, letting them have their say, observing them, and then letting viewers judge for themselves.