Progress report with Mathieu Roy

Director discusses what leads to societal collapse


SURVIVING PROGRESS written and directed by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks. An Alliance Films release. 86 ­minutes. Opens Friday (December 2). For venues and times, see Movies.


Director Mathieu Roy understands timing.

A few weeks after his film’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival and just prior to the explosion of the worldwide Occupy movement, the Surviving Progress co-director phones nearly breathless from Montreal after biking home from a meeting with his producers. His desire to release his third documentary in a timely fashion is understandable, since after five years of intense preproduction and research, the orientation of the film changed on the first day of shooting.

“The financial crisis started in 2008 on the day we were starting to shoot,” says Roy, a former journalist. “The collapse of complex societies is often the result of ecological deterioration that happens because of fundamentalist behaviour.”

Based on historian Ronald Wright’s A Short History Of Progress Massey Lectures, the film looks at “progress traps” – how humanity’s obsession with preventing short-term losses of convenience has stunted progress and evolution.

Roy was brought on board by producer Daniel Louis after both Denys Arcand and Francois Girard passed on offers to direct.

“I’m 33, and my generation will be stuck with the problems and the progress traps we find ourselves in now,” says Roy. “There’s a thirst for truth that I see more and more, and telling things the way they are with no bullshit is something that’s really lacking in mainstream media.”

The film doesn’t dwell on specifics, aside from several brief vignettes involving workers adversely affected by the push for short-term economic gains. Instead, it strives to spark a dialogue about problems without clear solutions.

“We wanted to be more timeless, so we couldn’t rest on specific events,” says Roy. “But we tried to connect it to the Roman Empire’s collapse and how 2006 to 2008 was very similar to what happened in Rome. There’s definitely room in the film for debate, because it’s not as if we know how to fix this progress trap. This is something that’s bigger than me and all of us.”

Roy hopes the film will continue to evolve as the face of progress changes.

“We have many more stories and interviews that I’d like to release via our website (survivingprogress.com). We touched on so many issues that I wouldn’t be satisfied if we closed the books now.”

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