A Planetary Perspective

04/22/2015 09:12 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015


We're on a planet.

We're on a planet that breathes, pulsing with water and soil and love.

We're on a planet that cradles life without demand, turn after turn.

We're on a planet that is ripe with gifts.

We're on a planet that is running out: out of water, out of air, out of time.

"We're on a planet, and we are planetary." Guy Reid tells me. Reid is the director of the documentary Planetary, a visually stunning cinematic journey that takes its audience to space and back.

The film insists that we are more than individual humans inhabiting a rock spinning through the galaxy.

It insists that we are one; inextricably linked by the stardust in our veins, a collective consciousness dependent upon the cooperation of its parts, earth to sky, mountain to sea.

It insists that this collective is a single organism, simultaneously of the planet and of the cosmos: in a word, planetary.

Its insistence delivers.

Planetary was born from the seeds of collaboration. The film was funded through Kickstarter in 2012, and its viral success on that platform reflects the appeal of its message. The short film Overview, a 19 minute prologue to Planetary and cornerstone of the campaign, amassed 1 million views by the end of its first day on Kickstarter. Without any press. At the campaign's close, Overview had 7 million views and Planetary had 1,400 backers.

Clearly, something hooked people. It sure hooked me.

I don't remember how I arrived at it, but I do remember that I watched Overview three times in a row. I was stunned by how it made me feel. Many films can bring tears to one's eyes, but not many films can bring tears to one's heart.

For the first time I not only saw the fragility our planet, I felt it.

That feeling is precisely what connects people to Planetary.

"We'd articulated something that people had always felt. Something that they'd always understood: that the earth is beautiful and fragile and precious, and that we are all connected to it," says Steve Watts Kennedy, producer, writer and editor of Planetary.

"That's not a philosophical position, it's a fact," he says. "We just wanted to share that idea. And I think that's why people have shared the film so much."

No one is better positioned to talk about the fragility of our planet than an astronaut. Viewing the earth as a tiny blue dot while floating amid the stars is an experience most humans will never have. Planetary uses the unique perspective of astronauts to illustrate the earth's vulnerability in a way that is as extraordinary as it is simple.

Ron Garan is one of them. A retired NASA astronaut, Garan has traveled 71,075,867 miles in 2,842 orbits of our planet during more than 178 days in space.

Seeing the planet for months at a time from space was an unprecedented vantage point for Garan. He spent most of his free time aboard his first mission with his face plastered to the window, looking back at earth.

"I launched into space on my first mission with the belief that we have all the technology and resources necessary to fix the problems facing our planet," Garan says, "...and I came to the conclusion that the primary reason we still face so many critical issues lies in our inability to effectively collaborate on a global scale."

Wanting to use his unique perspective to inspire change, Garan wrote a book called The Orbital Perspective as a first step, which Planetary draws upon.

"Planetary is also a step in that direction," he says. "We have a collaborative nature as a human species. We've lost that a little bit, and we need to get back to it."

The theme of human collaboration is a cornerstone of the film, and the idea is not unique to modern space-travelers. Planetary features tribal elders from various cultures who discuss the importance of seeing ourselves as together rather than separate.

It is vital to our continued existence. It always has been.

"I left space with this call to action not to accept the current status quo on our planet, to spread this idea that we can change things, we can change the trajectory of our global society," says Garan.

"We have the power to reduce the suffering that exists on our planet. We are in a position now," Garan insists, "where we have to collaborate to save our lives."

It's that very message which comes across so clearly in the film, and touches people in a profound way through words, imagery and sound.

"The thing about astronauts," director Guy Reid suggests, "is you can't argue with that view from space. You can't argue that the planet isn't one system. There's power in the fact that you're not even making an argument, you're just sharing a perspective."

Planetary is the brainchild of Guy Reid and Steve Watts Kennedy, lifelong friends who conceived the idea for the project as 15 year old kids sitting together on a park bench in Bristol, England; a city known more for its contribution to underground dance music than cosmic philosophy. Inspired to action by a book called The Global Brain Awakens by English physicist Peter Russell, Reid and Kennedy say they purchased dozens of copies from a secondhand shop and gave them away to friends.

"No one read them," Kennedy laughs. The guys decided a film might be more enticing.

In 2010 Reid and Kennedy, along with Planetary's director of photography Christopher Ferstad, formed Planetary Collective. The Collective is a creative organization "dedicated to worldview interruption." It uses art and technology as tools to change humanity's perspective not only of the planet, but of itself. Planetary was born from the collaborative efforts of the Collective, which connects with creatives from all walks of life who embody the ethos it represents.

So, now what? I ask them. The film leaves us with an awakened feeling that's hard to ignore, but the question of where to go from here remains.

Reid states simply, that it's time to reconsider.

"That feeling, it allows you to reconsider," he says. He points out that the etymology of the word itself is fascinating: consider is from the Latin root words cum and sidera, which literally means, with the stars.

A film may not singlehandedly alter the course of human action, but if it allows us to reconsider our choices, to reconsider our connection to this planet, perhaps we'll move toward togetherness.

Perhaps we'll remember that we are already with the stars.

** Planetary is set for worldwide release on Earth Day in theaters and on Vimeo on Demand. A full list of screening locations can be found here.