The 20th anniversary edition of the Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival (Oct. 15 – 20, 2019) opens at The Royal Cinema with Brett Story’s ingeniously enlightening The Hottest August. This is one of those rare documentaries that is deceptively simple at first glance but is rich in rewards once you scratch its surface. The film’s languid style belies a churning core, constructing a vivid observation of our collective consciousness. It is a film about the climate crisis and it isn’t. The Hottest August is a profound statement about major societal concerns intersecting at this juncture in time.
Throughout the month of August 2017, Story and her crew interviewed people living in all five boroughs of New York City. Her approach was unassuming yet direct: she asked a variety of individuals to speak about their daily lives and to reflect on the future. Employing a languid essay style approach, the filmmaker builds an impressionistic collage of street scenes, people
and encounters. Often, individuals do not even address climate concerns.
As the film develops, it becomes abundantly clear that direct statements are not always necessary as the filmmaker builds up a vision of a shared collective anxiety. Discussions of insecurities lead to talk of fears for the survival of the planet and its inhabitants. Young people wonder how long they have and whether it’s even thinkable to plan for children.
Watching The Hottest August is like sliding into a multifaceted dystopian reverie: comfortable at first while nevertheless inching firmly into a profound reality. But while the subjects talk about a variety of topics it is discourse on capitalism that encroaches most often. There’s an overwhelming sense of powerlessness underlying these discussions and an unnerving blame game results.
In fact, The Hottest August clearly elucidates the climate crisis. As Story shows, the indirect approach succeeds in revealing the collective sense of foreboding that permeates all aspects of modern living. It’s a symbiotic relationship.