How To Save Our Planet Through De-Extinction: An Interview With “We Are As Gods” directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The world as we know it, has drastically changed and our planet has slowly deteriorated. There are so many aspects such as, industrialization, deforestation and pollution, which affect Global Warming and our climate is changing more rapidly than ever. It seems as if the vicious cycle of capitalism has made the global population forget about taking care of our planet. Recently I watched a documentary, which was supposed to premiere at SXSW this year, called We Are As Gods. It is an in depth look at Stewart Brand’s life and his interest in de-extinction. This documentary shows the reasons why our planet has been deteriorating and that humans are to blame for the current state we are in.

Co-Directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado wanted to shed light on Brand’s ideas of long-term thinking and how people could save the planet. “The idea of doing a feature film on Stewart’s remarkable life and controversial de-extinction project seemed so cinematic, fascinating, and urgent: we’re losing (and have lost) keystone species causing impoverished ecosystem; and humans are to blame.” It educates the viewers about the history of the Earth and the current state humans are living in. They showed that there is a possibility that useful sciences could eventually restore some sort of balance to our deteriorating planet.

The documentary shows the longevity of theories and that it takes one man, to create a hypothesis to counter scientists or environmentalists. I had asked Sussberg and Alvarado about their thoughts on the current state of the world, as we are living through a historical event with global pandemic COVID -19, causing panic and tragedy across the globe.

“It’s hard to answer this question while in the middle of a global pandemic and likely economic depression. It’s bleak and going to get a lot worse, before it gets better. We’ll lose friends and family to the virus, people will feel isolated and depressed, and then the economy is going to be destroyed for a while… Our minds are solely focused on survival in the immediate, but we need to think long-term to maintain civilization. All of the missteps so far (not testing early, not going on severe lockdown sooner, not mobilizing industry to build ventilators and protective equipment) were motivated by short-term thinking—making the markets happy and not grinding capitalism to a screeching halt. By thinking long-term, you make near-term sacrifices, knowing that the outcome will be better in the future—lives will be saved, the healthcare curve will be flattened, economies will rise again, and the overall health of civilization will be prosperous.” – Directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado

The title of the film, We Are As Gods is the opening line of The Earth Catalogue that Stewart Brand created in the late 60s. “As the title suggests, “We are as gods.” The second half of Stewart’s quote is “and we might as well get good at it.” Beyond environmentalism and conservation, this concept extends to the current crisis.” Sussberg and Alvarado link it to the current pandemic and how it came about, “Our global civilization created the ingredients for a pandemic to flourish. But our god-like powers (science and technology) will solve this problem. A COVID-19 vaccine is the only solution that will safeguard our civilization from a major contraction in life and prosperity.” It’s a simple quote that can be interpreted in so many ways and can definitely apply to anything.

We Are As Gods shows the future of biotechnology and how we, as a civilization, can move forward. As stated in the documentary, if we bring certain species back it will restore their own ecosystem and create a balance. Sussberg and Alvarado have put their faith in the restoration of these ecosystems and do believe de-extinction can work. This documentary about Stewart Brand’s life holds so much value because of his views on humanity, science and the entire planet.

SXSW 2020 (Documentary Spotlight): We Are As Gods

PHOTOS COURTESY OF STEWART BRAND DOC

BY: Amanda Guarragi 

We Are As Gods is a documentary based on the legend Stewart Brand. Brand lived a very full life and began his journey at Stanford University, where he studied biology. During the late 1960s and early 70s, Brand developed the famous The Whole Earth Catalogue with the subheading, “access to tools”. The Catalogue is a publication that coincided with social and cultural experimentation in this era, which was directly associated to counterculture.

3. Stewart on Further

What is fully realized in this documentary is that people in the 60s and 70s, did many things on their own. They discovered new ways to look at the world and without those pioneers, like Brand, nothing we have at the moment would have been possible. Brand experimented with life and if he hadn’t done so, then the photo of the Earth would have never been released. Brand pushed the boundaries of human existence on this planet and how we all function as a society.

While watching We Are As Gods I was blown away by the information being tossed around by biologists and environmentalists. The documentary does show Brand’s life but also dives into a project he is currently working on, which is de-extinction. Brand is now using biotech to resurrect extinct species, in order to restore balance to our ecosystem. Our planet is rapidly deteriorating and Brand’s goal is to preserve the Earth. Humans have destroyed the environment, have chased away or killed species and it’s getting worse.

The directors, Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado created such an important piece educating viewers about the history of the Earth and the current state humans are living in. They showed that there is a possibility that useful sciences could eventually restore some sort of balance to our deteriorating planet, while still countering the idea by using other scientists who disapprove of this de-extinction theory. It’s such an interesting topic and I appreciated the integration of Brand’s footage because sometimes all it takes, is one person to ask a question that could change the future.

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David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg

“We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” this is the opening line in The Whole Earth Catalogue. Stewart Brand tried to question science in order to make it evolve so future generations could live in a better world. We are the only ones who can control our own future, we ARE our own gods and we have accessibility to different forms of sciences that can help redesign and hopefully save the planet. This can only happen if people actually have faith in these theories and understand that it’s for a greater good.

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Stewart Brand

I also loved the way that this documentary was filmed, the cinematography was stunning and the framing for certain landscapes captured the beauty of the world. There was a sequence in a tunnel, where the permafrost is located and it actually took my breath away. Everything from the lighting to the camerawork made that sequence beautiful. It’s truly amazing work from Sussberg and Alvarado. This documentary about Stewart Brand’s life holds so much value because of his views on humanity, science and the entire planet.