Blog #116: CreationKeepers on the Screen

April 20, 2023
Monika Weber-Fahr
Nearly 20 years ago, I was one of the first among my friends to read it: Der Schwarm, written by German Author Frank Schaetzing, had been published initially only in German, and while I got to enjoy what would eventually become one of the most widely read environmental Science Fiction thrillers, everyone else in my then-home Washington DC was waiting for the English translation to come out. Last month, a mini-series based on the book was released, and now there is no such language gap any more: English-speakers as well as German-speakers can watch Der Schwarm - the Swarm - for free on the ZDF Mediathek, just make sure to seat the language setting on the bottom right of the screen so that it works for you. And do hurry: Sometimes the ZDF Mediathek removes films after some time from their platform. Thereafter, Amazon Prime may become your only option.
Worthwhile watching? Well, it’s the Germans’ most-costly ever produced Mini-Series, so it better be good! But perhaps you want to first check out the book? It’s an absolute pageturner - be prepared to not be able to put it down once you start. An environmental Sci-Fi, its storyline is about marine scientists around the world who begin noticing weird changes in biology and behavior of whatever lives in the seas; as these changes accelerate and become more threatening, a rapidly evolving set of discoveries and action unfolds. Apparently, the background has been fabulously well researched - so be prepared to also learn a lot while being entertained. Like so many other books and films that feature environmental challenges also Der Schwarm has an Armageddon-type feel to it, but there is also a positive element in the description of how eventually a constructive resolution emerges (and no, I am not spoiling your anticipation for book or film by telling you their end), so my overall verdict on the Mini Series is positive!
Foto: The Swarm ("Der Schwarm") is an action-filled eco-thriller that was released on the ZDF Mediathek online last month in English and German. While the Mini-Series has its drawbacks - some lengths, and occasionally odd technology choices - it's still worthwhile watching, if only for its depiction of an emerging environmental disaster and the eventual resolution.    
Normally, I don’t like watching environmentally-themed (action) films or reading related books - mainly indeed because of the apocalyptic perspective that most of them take. And even though I had enjoyed reading Der Schwarm at the time - mainly because it’s simply so well written - I had kind of forgotten about the book until last week when I heard it mentioned in the recording of a talk that took place here in Vienna’s Volkstheater, with Samira El Quassil and Friedmann Karig. Together, the two authors have published an extraordinary book called Erzählende Affen - a title that would translate Narrating Apes. I have not read their book - but just listening to their talk I learned some fascinating insights into how narratives, including those around environmental challenges, rather than facts shape how we interact with the realities that surround us. For example, most environmentally themed films depict indeed apocalyptic settings, complete with rebel-type renegades trying to prevent some kind of disaster from happening, typically in action-filled eco-terrorist kind of ways. Rarely do such films feature those that actually cause the environmental disasters - the industries or decision makers that benefit from and lobby for poor policy decisions. Where is the Wolf of Wall Street version of an eco-thriller? And is this narrative one of the reasons why we spend more time discussing about the kids that glue themselves on the streets to protest against climate change than about those that earn millions with fossil fuel-based industries and prevent positive change from happening?
It’s worthwhile to occasionally examine why we think the way we think about a particular problem - that’s the short version of what the authors at the panel discussion said.  For example: Why do we worry about our individual carbon footprint - with the prerequisite guilt if it’s too large and if we feel too inconvenienced to reduce it - rather than worrying about the industries that do not offer us convenient alternatives? As it were, I had not realized that it was BP - yes, British Petroleum! - who suggested ordinary citizens use the carbon footprint concept when, in 2003, they took out ads around the world that asked people whether they even knew their own footprint. With that simple question BP managed to flip the narrative away from their own involvement in Climate Change, while seemingly pinning the accountability for the world’s carbon problem on the individual consumer. Kind of convenient for BP, it seems!
So what kinds of narratives are brought to us via the films we are watching when it comes to environmental challenges? Mostly, it seems, the entertainment industry pretends that climate change is not happening - less than one percent of of all US-based TV and film productions released between 2016 and 2020 name the word climate change even once. And when climate change is featured, it tends to be depicted as an unavoidable apocalypse - the recent political satire Don’t Look Up just being one of many many examples
But let's not be intimidated by Hollywood and instead remain on the lookout for good films with new perspectives on climate change and environmental challenges! And yes, they do exist! My personal favorite is and remains Woman at War, an icelandic-ukrainian comedy-action film, released in 2018. I will not review it here - but rather invite you to check it out; you can find it online on Amazon, I believe. And in the meantime, do check out The Swarm/Der Schwarm, and feel invited to send a note and tell me what is your personal favorite! 
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