Review – Globe-trotting doc ‘Down to Earth’ is refreshingly poignant about our planet

Poster for 2018 documentary film Down to Earth

Genre: Documentary
Certificate: U
UK Release Date: 14th September 2018
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Rolf Winters, Renata Heinen
Writer: Rolf Winters, Renata Heinen
Starring: Rolf Winters, Renata Heinen, Nowaten
Synopsis: A family decides to leave the stresses and strains of the developed world behind to spend some time among people with a real grasp of the natural world and the best ways to protect it.



I confess to being incredibly sceptical about Down to Earth when I entered the cinema to watch it. The basic premise of a family leaving the Western world behind in order to spend time among people who are closer to nature sounds like the stuff of pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, “gap yah” philosophising. In the hands of parents Rolf Winters and Renata Heinen, however, the notion becomes the starting point for a poignant and thought-provoking investigation of our position on this planet and the way we abuse that position.

Human beings in 2018 crave complexity and reject simplicity, but Down to Earth asks whether that’s the way it needs to be. It’s not necessarily a new argument, but it’s one that this duo tells with a refreshingly obvious perspective shift. This isn’t the privileged white people take on being closer to the world around us; it’s a globalised patchwork of perspectives from the people who actually feel this way. The movie gives them the slightly grandiose title of “keepers of the Earth”, but it also crucially gives them a voice – and it’s a voice that’s worth listening to.

The scale of the movie is impressive. Down to Earth starts with this family’s modest journey, but pivots when they meet the brilliant Native American medicine man Nowaten. This turns the story away from the family themselves and towards the dozens of people they meet, who speak in a candid and interesting way. Their arguments about connection to the spiritual world might seem bizarre to Western ears, but the perspective of these people is entirely raw, unfiltered and unafraid of how it might appear to the rest of the world. The directors shot more than 200 hours of interviews and have assembled them impressively into a tight, intriguing 90 minutes.

Winters and Heinen make the most of the beautiful landscapes around them, from the Loita Hills in Kenya to Machu Picchu and the Kalahari Desert. These locations are stunning and they are lensed with a real eye for their inherent beauty, helped by Stephen Warbeck’s evocative music. Down to Earth is dealing with global issues and, in doing so, the global scale of the storytelling is crucial.

This isn’t a film that will suit everybody. It has its moments of preaching and the disconnection from the realities of living in our Western society is jarring. However, it’s a superb piece of craft and it has an important message in that it will inevitably provoke thought about whether the way that we live is the best way to live. The spiritual leaders who are given the chance to speak here embrace a simpler existence, and there’s certainly something in that idea from which all of us can learn.

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Down to Earth takes the most pretentious of concepts and, by giving real people the chance to speak, turns it into a documentary that has something to teach us all. It’s not going to encourage others to leave the cities and live in the woods, but it does provoke the notion that perhaps humanity could benefit from being a little closer to the planet around us and a little more mindful of the effects we exert upon it.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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