Debates and Discussions

Growthbusters film brings controversy to Freethought Film Fest

Dave Gardner's latest documentary, Growthbusters, could be described as the whole-hog opposite to the messages of either of our 2012 presidential candidates: slow down the economy, encourage population reduction, and stop buying shit you don't need. So it's a good thing Gardner isn't running for office. As we saw in Jimmy Carter's 1979 "Malaise Speech," the public doesn't enjoy being lectured about their over-consumptive lifestyle.

But Gardner's film pulls no punches. "In Growthbusters I try and scare people a little bit, let people know that we've outgrown the planet," says Gardner. "But I try to also give people the good news about the Degrowth movement; the people who are brutally honest about how we overdid it and how we need to scale back."

"The President of the United States -- and every other world leader -- has the number one goal of getting us to buy more crap," says Gardner, commenting on the economic stimulus of consumer confidence. "We've become slaves to an economy where our patriotic duty is to go shopping. We're slaves to working long hours, skipping lunch, long commutes, deeper in debt. And all for things that, it turns out, don't make us happy."

"We just came off of a 200-year binge," Gardner continues. "When we discovered the incredible power of fossil fuels, we were able to embrace mass production, industrialization, globalization, medical advances...And that allowed us to live lives in a way we never had before. Two-hundred years ago there were barely a billion people on the planet, and now we have over seven billion people -- just in two hundred years, which is only a blip in history. And that's all from discovering the power of fossil fuels."

Gardner is hesitant to ever use the term "population control," not wanting to be associated with the ominous practices of totalitarian states, though concerns about the population explosion -- in conjunction with our depleted resources -- is at the core of the Growthbusters film. "The Catholic church has played a large role in keeping nations from developing sound population policy. The people who follow the biblical notion of go forth and multiply, and have dominion over the earth, are the most difficult to get to behave sustainably."

Gardner argues that primitive humans living in the hunter/gatherer age -- despite their ignorance of medicine, hygiene and nutrition -- were much happier than modern humans, enjoying a larger amount of leisure time. And while his film does not argue that we must all move back into caves and live on wheatgrass, he is proposing we embrace alternative lifestyles that are not as dependent on the economic model presented to us by our government. "Losing the comfort of the system is certainly scary; but if you can get unplugged from the system, man, you can actually have a good life. Instead of being a zombie, a drone in service to the economy."

Similar to other radicalized documentaries like What the Bleep Do We Know!? and The Secret, Growthbusters is couched in a type of "scientist humor" that can be more than a bit difficult to digest. With campy gimmicks and a comedy style so unhip it would make Lawrence Welk blush, Dave Gardner's film addresses issues that are universal to anyone living in this age of economic/ecological anxiety.

Growthbusters will be screened at the International Freethought Film Festival on Sunday, August 5 at 3:15 p.m. at the Denver FilmCenter. For more information visit

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse