A noble and notable "Nobelity” is the change we wish to see

Sept. 21, 2006, midnight | By Amanda Pollak | 14 years ago

Documentary addresses problems through the eyes of the wisest

As director Turk Pipken declares throughout his new, globally conscious documentary, "Nobelity," fixing the problems of the world may be simple, but it's not going to be easy. Likewise, buying tickets to his film may seem simple, but sitting through and fully comprehending the message of "Nobelity" is anything but easy. Nonetheless, it is not a film to miss.

The film opens as Pipken scans newspaper and magazine headlines, each full of world problems. As he explains it, his two daughters want to know what's wrong with the world, and what can be done. So, logically, he turns to those who have changed the world. He travels the world to interview Nobel Laureates Steven Weinberg (1979 Nobel for Physics), Jody Williams (1997, Peace), Ahmed Zewail (1999, Chemistry), Rick Smalley (1996, Chemistry), Wangari Maathai (2004, Peace), Sir Joseph Rotblat (1995, Peace), Dr. Harold Varmus (1989, Medicine), Desmond Tutu (1984, Peace) and Amartya Sen (1998, Economics).

The movie is divided into nine themes, with one for each Laureate. Each section opens with a one-word title scribbled across a black screen. Themes range from forgiveness and compassion to common sense and knowledge. Each Laureate addresses the problem that they specifically dealt with, while relating it to larger, more universal issues. In her search to illegalize the use of landmines, Williams discovers the potential of every person to make a change, hence the segment title, "Change."

Overall, the documentary weaves together different approaches of solving global problems. Although it may seem that all the Laureates share is their prize, their words flow flawlessly among each other in Pipken's train of thought. Each segment answers the question of that before it in a steady, logical stream of themes, from Challenges to Decisions to Disparities, Change, Knowledge, Persistence, Peace, Reason and at last, Love, as the solution.

Segments are broken up by Pipken's brief monologues, generally including footage of his children or of the next Laureate's nation—the festive arts and architecture of Paris, the vibrant and teeming chaos of India and the silhouettes of the Pipken children playing on the beach before a bright sunset. Cinematography is bright and refreshing. The outdoors appears behind and around the Laureate in nearly every segment. Coupled with the simple and natural music, this breathes fresh air into the deep, intellectual verbiage of the interviews. Overall, Pipken does an excellent job sewing the segments together with seamless and simple transitions.

The segment on Maathai, founder of the Green Belt movement and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel, is perhaps the best of the lot. The premise was simple: Women she encountered in her home country of Kenya complained of starvation and a lack of clean water. She found that the water was filled with silt and the crops planted were not ideal for eating. Her solution: to plant trees. Planting provided the women an occupation while less erosion caused by the trees led to less silt. All in all, her work affected the lives of many poor women. Vivid footage of Kenyan women and children, accompanied with traditional Kenyan songs, flows through the interview while the bright green trees reaching for the horizon convey the magnitude and beauty of her work. The simplicity of her solution is equally astonishing. It, more than any other, conveys Pipken's point: Anyone can make a difference. It was not a PhD that Maathai use to solve the problem; it was humanity and common sense. The simplicity and vibrance of the segment delights and captivates the audience while driving the point home.

The film's overriding theme is that our children's future is in your hands, as the ending phrase on the trailer reads. This makes it all the more relevant for Blair students as we are the children that Pipken has in mind. It is students' generation that will be most effected by the global issues, like global warming and conflicts between the Eastern and Western worlds, that the Nobel Laureates claim policy makers continue to put on the back burner. Thus, although the film can be tedious at points, it is quite pertinent for students in particular. As the film opens, Pipken repeats question after question but stops at the one he claims people cannot escape: Is this the world we want to leave for our children?

Although it sometimes feels like a PBS documentary, this should not detract from the overall ambition and scope of the film. The message is simple: everyone can make a difference. The work of the nine Laureates has been added to by the a tenth: Pipken, who has brought a phenomenal documentary into the world. The film may not earn him the next Nobel Peace Prize, but it does earn Pipken credit for, in the words of Gandhi, "be[ing] the change you wish to see."

Nobelity (85 minutes) is not rated.

Amanda Pollak. More »

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