Just because it has Juliette Binoche in the credits doesn’t mean you have to imagine a movie with people. The infectiously laughing actress who marvels at amazing landscapes is above all to learn, as is the viewer, how much our human health depends on the health of animals and plants. And as a summary at the end of this journey of multiple encounters in eight countries on four continents, “the more we deforest, the more we lose biodiversity, the more epidemics we have… This is the pandemic factory”. Hence the title given by Marie-Monique Robin (1), winner of the Albert London Prize and multi-award-winning director, to her self-produced documentary, after the publication of the homonymous book whose editorial team underlines, “allowed him to patiently mature his film project”. A kind of cinematic feat carried out internationally in times of a pandemic.
the fear of a “Epidemic Era of Pandemics”
The images of nature are beautiful, from Guyana to Gabon, from Thailand to Madagascar, passing through Mexico. They delight the eyes and captivate the mind to convey the main message: everything is connected. In the field, a dozen committed scientists (2) strive to make the viewer understand the links that unite forests, lakes and rivers, animals that live there – we find them in magnificent drawings by illustrator Valentine Plessy, when they are very hidden in the trees, grass, their burrows or underwater – with us humans. Objective: to make people understand that “everything remains low noise” when we do not disturb ecosystems, but that, if not, the pathogens that abound in nature are ready to attack.
“If we continue to destroy ecosystems, we will experience ‘an era of epidemic pandemics,'” predicts the parasitologist Serge Morand (CNRS). This terrestrial destruction (the film remains on the continents and does not explore the ocean) is essentially due to deforestation, climatic extremes or urbanization, recalls Rodolphe Gozlan (IRD), who can be found in Guyana, evoking “the threat of extinction of a million species, including a quarter of mammals”.
“There is no doubt about the erosion of biodiversity”
“Biodiversity is a heritage that we have inherited and that we must strive to pass on to future generations”, insists the biologist Bernard Chevassus-au-Louis, who piloted with Michèle Sebag (CNRS) a report for the Academy of Technologies, published Wednesday May 18, 2022, entitled The erosion of biodiversity. What can (and not say) science say? “Four billion years ago, living beings invented the encoding of information in DNA and we discovered today, in the face of the unsustainability of massive storage of information on silicon, that this is clearly an excellent biodiversity finding”, underlines in its conclusions to the report. There is no irony in this, but a reminder of the great and sometimes extremely surprising importance of the skillful solutions found by nature, at a time when “biodiversity erosion is beyond doubt”, as the introductory summary reminds us. The latter presents the most up-to-date figures in the area, emphasizing that “The current rate of species extinction is between 100 and 1000 times the average rate since life began on Earth, and 10 to 100 times faster than any mass extinction in the past.”
Food chains are then disturbed, species regulation as well and end up multiplying the “reservoirs” of pathogens (animals “healthy carriers”) that put humans in danger. It is not just mosquitoes (650 species) or bats (more than 1400 species) that we learn that they also “know stress”, and that the film shows us being tested with swabs in the nose, by properly protected virologists…
“Between 1 and 5 infectious disease emergencies a year, compared to one every fifteen years until 1970”
They may be friendly shrimp that carry a mycobacterium that causes Buruli ulcer, a neglected tropical disease for which the World Health Organization (WHO) established a laboratory network in 2019. We see that the massive breeding of domesticated animals – 1 billion and 600 million cows, 30 billion chickens – can turn into “intermediate hosts” that promote the humanization of wild animal viruses. And we understand better why infectious diseases, 70% of zoonoses, are multiplying, “between one and five emergencies a year, against one every fifteen years until 1970”, according to WHO data. At the time of Covid19, the exact origin of which we still do not know, but which emerged in Wuhan (China), in an area clearly identified as at risk even before the beginning of the pandemic, the viewer perceives the whole urgency of the matter. But we must not forget the images. Marie-Monique Robin would like to point out that here she makes “homage to nature, which we can no longer continue to sacrifice, on pain of sacrificing our own children”. The beauty of the landscapes, the grace of the monkeys or the birds and the laughter of Juliette Binoche help to last an hour and forty, despite the distressing observation.
1) “The Pandemic Factory”, to be seen on UshuaïaTV, May 22, at 20:45.
2) About thirty institutions and associations supported the production, including UNESCO, French Office for Biodiversity, IRD, Cirad, Inrae, Natural History Museum, Institute of Tropical and Public Medicine in Basel, Emory University (Atlanta).