(Canada, 51 min.)
Dir. Albert Nerenberg, Nik Sheehan
“I have never been a fan of farts,” observes Albert Nerenberg, who narrates Who Farted? and serves as its onscreen guide. “They have always seemed gross or juvenile.”
Nerenberg and Nik Sheehan let one rip in Who Farted? the doc bills itself as “the world’s first climate change documentary comedy.” (2040, funny as it is, isn’t really a comedy.) Who Farted? has a brand of humour that, as its title suggests, is an acquired taste. However, the mix of below-the-belt comedy and investigative filmmaking is surprisingly effective. The doc is light and funny, but also a smart and thoughtful consideration of the invisible factors that contribute to climate change.
The doc expands upon a science project that Nerenberg’s 12-year-old daughter presented to her science class. The young Nerenberg presents a project about farts that makes her grade-school classmates giggle and snicker as she describes the way gas moves through the body. Then, in a dramatic turn, she reveals that cow farts pump copious levels of gas into the air and contribute to climate change. Her classmates are terrified, wondering if each toot brings them closer to doomsday.
Who Farted? spends its first act exploring the history of farting as the lowest form of comedy. Tales of Arabian nights and a French musician named Le Pétomane, who infamously charmed attendees of the Moulin Rouge with his, er, wind instrument, explore the journey of flatulent humour and the ongoing human squeamishness about a universal bodily function. International authors and scientists add obligatory talking heads moments that unpack the natural process of expelling gas. Despite the advances of science, it’s hard to break the stigma that surrounds releasing wind.
The doc’s dramatic turn comes in its second act when Nerenberg’s quest shifts to the ecological impact of flatulence. Beyond the argument presented by Nerenberg’s daughter about factory farming putting concentrated clouds of methane into the atmosphere, the inquiry wonders if the invisible nature of bodily gasses allows people to live in blissful ignorance of the ills ravaging the environment. Then the film reverts back to fart jokes for a grand finale, culminating with the World Farting Championships at which the top tooter wins 57 cans of pea soup. It introduces a flatulent musician named Mr. Methane, who vied for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II—and might have drawn attention to the environmental impact of flatulence had his brand of humour been deemed worthy of her throne.
The link between the perceived humour of fart jokes and environmental conscientiousness could be more forcefully conveyed, but the approach is unexpectedly refreshing. When too many environmental films take an angle of dry fury, Who Farted? offers a light-hearted consideration that might prove more accessible for audiences who don’t mind the scatological humour. It’s a gas.
Who Farted? airs on the Documentary Channel June 28 at 9:00 pm.