Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: “Collapse” – Are We Doomed?

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Collapse_Poster.jpgWe’re doomed! I’m not even talking about that mess up in Massachusetts. I’m talking big-time, end-of-civilization, DOOMED. That, at least, is the message delivered by Collapse, a documentary that came out last year, directed by Chris Smith (The Yes Men, American Movie). The film got limited attention, and can now be see on movies-on-demand on a TV near you, as well as at a few theaters across the country. But like all great prophecies that have gone unheeded, this one is worth checking out. I recently caught up with the film, which is primarily an interview with Michael Ruppert, a former LAPD cop who seriously casts in doubt a world that believes in constant growth with infinite resources.

I found Ruppert fascinating, but then again, I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. (I’d like to see them sell the film as a box set with the post-apocalyptic The Road.) I should say that Ruppert does hold out some hope for those people with good hunting-and-gathering skills. The rest of us can forget it. I asked the director and his subject a few questions:

Doc Soup: How did making this film impact your own personal sense of the future of humanity? Are we doomed?
Chris Smith: It really depends on the day. There are times where things seem really bad, then there are other days where you think this can’t really happen, that we will adapt to challenging situations as we have in the past. Ultimately I am an optimist and like to believe we won’t let things get to the point Mike outlines in the film, that human ingenuity will prevail.

Mike heralds the recession as confirmation that his theories are correct. And yet, the world hasn’t stopped completely. In fact, many economists are suggesting the recession could be over. Is this a temporary reprieve, baloney, or what?

Smith: I think one thing I’ve learned from making this film is that no one knows anything for sure. If you ask Mike it’s a temporary reprieve. I have no idea as I’m a filmmaker, not an economist. I’ve always said my greatest hope in working on this film is that we can look back in 5, 10 or 20 years and laugh at how dated and misinformed it was. I think the thing that scares people the most in watching the film is that there’s some part of you that isn’t 100% convinced that’s going to be the case.

What did you think of the documentary? Is it what you expected it to be?

Collapse - Michael RuppertMichael Ruppert: It is better and it’s having a bigger impact than I had hoped. Based upon the fan mail I’m receiving from around the world, it has resonated strongly on every continent. Almost everyone I know has had the experience of being in love with a particular book and then being disappointed by the movie.

Collapse was about the book of my life, and Chris Smith got it right. I cannot say that with enough gratitude or even awe. Out of maybe 10-15 new communications per day (that number’s growing) more than half say “I thought I was the only one who felt this way or saw this.” Most of those are from young people in their twenties. That is so gratifying for me. The sustainability movement numbers in the millions worldwide now and there are many great leaders and thinkers who have been energized by Collapse. That makes me giggle. There is a real awakening of consciousness taking place and I don’t think it can be stopped now.

How is the release of the documentary impacting your world view? Are you more hopeful, now that the word is getting out because of the film?

Ruppert: My world view is unchanged. Collapse is collapse, and many of the things I was predicting have and are coming true since the film was first shown almost six months ago. I am much more hopeful now because the issue for me has never been to prevent collapse. That can’t be done. The issue has been to prepare as many as possible and to save lives. Many, many people in many different life situations have reached out directly to me; from the wealthy, educated and influential to the poor and voiceless in third-world countries. As I said in the film, I’m only interested in teaching people who get it how to build lifeboats and there are many more than I thought. The main theme I’m advocating now is Permaculture and local food production. That’s about all we have time for now given the speed and severity of actual collapse. Collapse has opened the door for many to explore the wealth of work that is already being done. Bluemark has been kind enough to provide links to some of the best information sites from the movie’s website. From there people are discovering how much helpful knowledge is really out there.

I don’t think I caught an actual timeline of when you think the total collapse will really happen. Do you have a prediction?

Ruppert: We actually filmed on five separate occasions and there’s a lot of footage that didn’t make the final cut. In some of that footage I said clearly that I thought the next serious phase of collapse would happen no later than the summer of 2010. That looks to be coming true. Both the economic and energy news have been confirming that. But when I say the “next phase” I emphasize that collapse is happening and will happen in stages. This next phase will see a new serious economic downturn that will indicate a global commercial collapse — serious interruptions in the flow of goods and services. All indicators who an new oil price spike on the way. All of this is being very well documented and described on the blog that bears my name and now on the Collapse Facebook page which is becoming something of a phenomenon in itself.

“Total collapse” needs a definition. And total collapse is something my life’s work has been dedicated to preventing. As another writer, Dmitry Orlov, has suggested, collapse happens in stages. He lived through the collapse of the Soviet Union. His stages are (in order): financial, commercial, political, social and cultural. We are entering the Commercial Collapse phase right now. All of the predictions made by myself and many others are sadly appearing right on schedule.

Can you give me an update of what you have been up to since the film was completed?

Ruppert: Since late June of 2009, I have immersed myself as much as possible in writing and making music. I collaborate and co-write with two incredible musical geniuses in a band called New White Trash, founded by multi-Grammy winner and music legend Andy Kravitz, and veteran writer/composer/performer/arranger Doug Lewis, in Venice, California — my adopted hometown since 1968. I don’t play anything, but I do sing and have written some melodies and choruses. Music was always my first love. I just had to put it aside for a long time. Our website has been getting some nice attention. We have 10 songs up now out of maybe 30 originals, and that’s been a wonderful tonic for me. We are writing songs and making music for all the disposable “useless eaters” who have fallen off of mainstream media’s map, as Woody Guthrie did in the Great Depression. My hair’s long for the first time ever and I’m having some fun. I stopped all work on serious research when I knew the film was done and the book would come out. That hasn’t hurt at all and it has freed me up psychologically and emotionally. The map we made is being proved accurate on a daily basis and I don’t need to do a lot of work now. There isn’t time. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who have learned how to dig through news reports and find the stories that reveal what’s really happening and they’re doing that work now. That’s a God-send for me and it has accelerated the pace at which people are building lifeboats. I pipe in only on big events. That baton has been largely passed to a new generation.

I’m spending a lot of time now with interviews and travelling to support the film and my companion book,
Confronting Collapse, which is starting to get a lot of attention as well. I’m still struggling to pay the rent but it looks like that will change soon. Me and my dog Rags are having some great experiences now.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki