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#HotDocs22 Review: Pleistocene Park

May 7, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Pleistocene Park is the name of the property in remote Siberia where eccentric Russian geophysicist Sergey Zimov and his son Nikita are trying to restore the mammoth steppe ecosystem as a way to halt the disastrous effects of global warming. It might sound like an out there solution, but Sergey theorizes that large herd animals stomping cold air back into the ground will stop further thawing of the permafrost, where carbon emissions are stored.

Director Luke Griswold-Tergis follows Sergey and Nikita over several years in his documentary Pleistocene Park, capturing a series of false starts and setbacks as they try to build the park to a scale that will actually have an impact on the environment. Sergey has so far amassed a collection of horses and reindeer to graze on the property, but his dream is to have a herd of several hundred thousand Canadian bison. The problem is that bison are hard to get, let alone transport to his remote location in Siberia.

The park is also being cultivated as a possible home for wooly mammoths that scientists are trying to bring back from extinction using DNA, a project that geneticist George Church and conservationist Stewart Brand are working on, but is still a long time away. But Griswold-Tergis only briefly touches on the work of Church and Brand (which was the focus of last year’s Hot Docs selection We Are As Gods) in Pleistocene Park.

This film mainly serves as a slightly quirky portrait of Sergey, with Girswold-Tergis asking if he is an eccentric dreamer, a mad genius who holds the keys to helping stop global warming, or both. It maybe runs a little long at 101 minutes, and lacks some narrative focus at times, with the filmmaker questioning his own place in the project through voiceover. But Pleistocene Park still serves as an often entertaining look at this unique project, that offers a thought provoking glimpse into at an unconventional possible solution to climate change.

Screenings:

Saturday, April 30th – 8:30 PM at Varsity 8

Wednesday, May 4th – 2:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Friday, May 6th – 8:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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