Who We Were (Wir wer waren) switches the question of ecological destruction to one of identity, calling on experts including astronauts, marine biologists, economists, feminist scholars, social scientists, and Buddhist monks to examine humanity’s extreme effect on the biosphere. Much time is spent on the earth’s wonders as well as on its destruction at the hands of humans, where it holds back nothing. The film’s warning is strengthened by its emphasis on building something new and healthy from what remains, curtailing damage and stalling corruption to find a solution for humanity and the systems we have disrupted.

Who We Were sets itself apart from similar recent ecological documentaries through its synthesis of the scientific, political, and documentary. As much time is spent letting the scientists and activists explain their decades of research and projects for the future as on footage capturing the radical ways humanity has changed the landscape. The latter is often chilling, but enthusiasm and quiet hope comes through those who have devoted their lives to the plant. No one in this project has given up hope for the planet or humanity without understating the seriousness of the climate predicament.

The documentary’s flaw may be that it tries to cover too much ground. The juxtaposition of astronaut Alexander Gerst and marine biologist Sylvia Earle, from the highest and lowest depths of exploration, feels like one neat section, whereas the activists and community workers feel worthy of a documentary each. This film is undoubtedly more of an introduction than an endpoint.

By focusing on humanity’s role as actor and future as restorer, Who We Were paints a fundamentally hopeful, if sombre, picture of life on this planet. There is much work to be done, but the infectious passion of the experts makes a better, healthier world seem possible.



CAST: Alexander Gerst, Sylvia Earle, Dennis Snower, Matthieu Ricard, Felwine Sarr, Janina Loh

DIRECTOR: Marc Bauder

WRITER: Marc Bauder

SYNOPSIS: Using perspectives from numerous ecological experts, this documentary looks at humanity’s past to understand its future on earth.