Reviews Short Documentary

Common Thread (2022) – 1 star

Director: Frank Fazzio

Running time: 14mins

Politicians and business leaders around the world are essentially fiddling while the planet burns. Climate scientists have been ramping up their warnings to no avail – even as the world approaches a disastrous point of no return for global warming, the actions of the global elite suggest that, beyond the obligatory soundbites about ‘doing our bit’, they regard the melting of the poles as business as usual. It is increasingly becoming clear that if there is going to be action to save the world, it will not come from the top down, and will require some significant breaking of the rules.

Common Thread is a short documentary which itself seems bent on breaking every rule it encounters – unfortunately, none of them are rules that will have any bearing on the subject it focuses on. The film opens with several reels of stock footage, each accompanied with sound effects that clearly don’t belong to them – from the cosy crackling of a fireplace in a log-cabin playing over the devastation of a Californian wildfire, to the same ‘roar.wav’ playing over a clip of three polar bears on repeat – before something that should not feature in any self-respecting documentary: a written quote from the director themselves!

As Frank Fazzio’s text explains that The Children “All want a sustainable, livable [sic] planet and future” over the most derivative royalty-free, plinky-plunk piano music, I have a bad feeling about this. The opening sequence has indeed set a precedent which lives up to those fears time and again throughout Common Thread’s 14-minute run-time. A frustratingly verbose movie, it moves at a glacial pace; cycling between long-winded talking heads, and reams of stock footage and misused sound-files, while offering up literally nothing substantial or new to engage with.

The first sequence to follow the opening titles establishes this cycle in almost laughable style. To confirm we are in Zimbabwe to talk to a young boy about the impacts of climate change, Fazzio first ‘sets the scene’ by sourcing the most clichéd ‘African’ music available on the internet – complete with the echoing calls of a male lion, booming across some distant plain, on repeat. The youngster explains that climate change is impacting his family’s crops because of sustained droughts that now hit their land more often. He also explains that because of this, children his age are resorting to stealing or marriage to ensure their survival. With the drums, pipes and lion roar still playing in the background, we are immediately transported to Kenya, where a young girl notes many of the same issues. The awkward framing of both testimonies with the clichéd music plays up to the outdated assertion Africa is all just one place essentially – at least in the eyes of our filmmaker – which does not do much to rebuild his already tattered credibility.

A number of bizarre, lengthy talking heads follow, each essentially restating the same core points (wildfires, droughts, rising sea levels, dying animals are problems associated with climate change) to the extent you begin to feel these were points Fazzio insisted they bring up – while minimising their own input, which perhaps he felt American audiences would not have related to, but might well have made this sequence more compelling. Possibly the strangest instance of this is when an adult man, also apparently surrounded by lions in Kenya, suggests he was unaware of climate change until he watched the Leonardo DiCaprio film Before the Flood – after which he ‘awoke’. While the effects of global warming are all around him, this suggests rather ludicrously that he would have been oblivious to it, without the intervention of a famous white American.

Stranger still is the sequence where Fazzio’s camera lands back in America. At this point, he seems to have given up entirely on letting his subjects at least convey his message in their own words. One girl gives the game away repeatedly in her lengthy segments, as her eyes repeatedly dart back and forth, reading the note held just above the lens. Surprise, surprise, “severe wildfires, droughts and flooding” are some of the first words out of her mouth. She then goes on to detail the wildfires of Colorado in 2021, and the carnage that ensued. The segment is evidently rehearsed, and does not come across with any of the organic emotion you might normally get from a documentary trying to deal with these issues. However, this is still the kind of detailed background we should have been given in some form when visiting the other children around the world.

By the end of the film, we have gone through the motions in Denmark, Mexico and Taiwan too. At no point do we see anything like this level of detail, or any explanation of how everyday life is changing for the communities the children live in. Again, whether this is because it is the only context Fazzio believes US audiences will relate to is unclear, but it makes for a much less compelling watch for anyone outside the ‘centre of the universe’ on the other side of the Atlantic.

Even if this were changed, though, when we get to the end, it is unclear exactly what we were supposed to do with any of this information. A documentary – especially a documentary on a politically charged topic like this – needs to be clear on its call to action. There needs to be a reason for us to remember the information the film has thrown at us. The best Fazzio’s film can manage is a final monologue from the US subject, Dalia – who issues the kind of fuzzy call to arms that would not be out of place in the non-committal corridors of a COP conference. When it comes to climate change, we should all be “Talking about it and doing something about it.” Exactly what that something is, is the eternal sticking point – but leaving it up in the air as the world burns around us is simply not good enough anymore.

The exhaustive use of stock footage and rogue soundbites, the meandering monologues rechurning the same talking points about the environment, and the banal royalty-free music accompanying everything all lend themselves to the obvious comparison between Common Thread and Birdemic.

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