Hot Docs

The Here Now Project Review: Documenting Our Own Destruction

Hot Docs 2024

5 mins read

The Here Now Project
(USA, 75 min.)
Dir. Greg Jacobs, Jon Siskel


“It’s like a horror movie,” exclaims a man from Zhengzhou, China as he records himself gingerly walking along the side of a flooded train tunnel with other passengers. Although his words speak to the treacherous realities of his current circumstance, he could easily be speaking directly about Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel’s latest documentary The Here Now Project.

A chilling work, The Here Now Project captures the effects of climate change in a visceral way.  Instead of incorporating talking head interviews with scientists, activists, artists, and experts who have been sounding the alarm for decades, Jacobs and Siskel simply let the witnesses to the environmental impact speak for themselves. Sifting through thousands of hours of cell phone footage, they compile a film that displays the collective dangers that have already occurred and will only get worse moving forward.

Chronicling the year 2021, and utilizing in-the-moment footage, the documentary commences with various residents across Texas attempting to navigate a snowstorm and record-breaking lows in temperature.  As Texans deal with bursting pipes, rolling black outs, frozen gas pumps, and crumbling infrastructure, the dire reality of their situation becomes devastatingly clear. Supplies are low and the chances of people dying due to lack of heat are high.  Things are so bad that, as one man notes in a humorous moment, even the gas station hot dogs, which no one eats, are sold out.

The human ability to find brief levity in times of uncertainty allows the audience to come up for air before being submerged in the fear and grief that permeate the film. Whether it is a woman in British Columbia witnessing her town being ravaged by wildfires, or villagers in Kenya overwhelmed by the large swarm of locusts decimating their crops, the emotion in the film is palpable. By stitching together environmental disasters from across the globe, often occurring within the same month, Jacobs and Siskel create a sense of shared trauma.

One cannot help but feel a shiver down their spine observing a massive cloud of red dust threatening to devour cyclists in Brazil, or the terror on the faces of passengers stuck inside a flooded train where the water level has risen to their necks.

“I’ve never seen this before…” is a common phrase repeated by those in front and behind the cameras around the globe. Regardless of what part of the world one may reside, the terror that comes from wildfires, flooding, seas covered in microorganisms that look like phlegm, cyclones, and more are events every country is dealing with in some fashion.

Creating a sense of shared community through tragedy, The Here Now Project makes it clear we each bear responsibility in making meaningful change.  While there is plenty of environmental destruction on display, there are also many examples of humans coming together in times of need. By eliminating the political rhetoric and calculated news punditry that often stifles any forward movement on the climate crisis front, Jacobs and Siskel’s film emphasize that we can no longer treat the issue like it is the monster in the closet and say it doesn’t exist.

A pulsing and terrifying look at what will become of the world if we do not collectively act, The Here Now Project serves as an urgent reminder that Mother Nature will no longer allow us to sit idly and record from the sidelines.

The Here Now Project premiered at Hot Docs 2024.

Courtney Small is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic and co-host of the radio show Frameline. He has contributed to That Shelf, Leonard Maltin, Cinema Axis, In the Seats, and Black Girl Nerds. He is the host of the Changing Reels podcast and is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association, Online Film Critics Society and the African American Film Critics Association.

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