“Behind the Curve” (2018)
Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed by: Daniel J. Clark
Featuring: Darryle Marble
Modern flat Earth societies: “Organizations that promote the misconception that the Earth is flat rather than a globe. Such groups date from the middle of the 20th century; some adherents are serious and some are not. Those who are serious are often motivated by pseudoscience or Biblical literalism.”
“Behind the Curve” (2018) was released in late 2018 on iTunes and Netflix, a documentary that at first glance may be dismissed as a curio or even seen as a chance to make fun of a group of people that are on the fringes of society, However, that would be overlooking the craft, planning as well as the actual nature of a movement that is being looked at in the excellent documentary “Behind the Curve”. This is a documentary based around the seemingly comic ‘flatearthers’ or the ‘Flat Earth Society’ (FES). This is a group that has come to light because of marketing as well as the need for the media to fill air time with items that are curious, although given that air time they are then seen as legitimate, which of course they are not, unless you come from a time before Galileo.
This is such a canny documentary with an inventive narrative that places the audience in a (hopefully) uncomfortable position of being exposed and engulfed in what it means to be a part of the FES that at different times we sometimes begin to see their point of view, in fact the entire narrative is almost entirely from the FES point of view which shows two things straight off, one is that any rational personal will see the actual truth as people taking a position that the Earth is flat will ultimately undo themselves, especially as it is obvious that many actual scientists dismiss them out of hand. Secondly, we receive a measured reason argument from people outside this movement such as psychiatrists and scientists who give logic based reasons for why these people exist, why they have been ignored (up until recently) as well as why they should be challenged, not in the ways you might immediately think of. All of the experts recognize the danger these ‘flat earthers’ pose as well as how they should be challenged so that they are not ignored but engulfed by reason.
The past two years or so has been an excellent year for documentaries not only on streaming or DVD but in cinemas which is a trend that goes against what many people may have expected. However I find this to be exactly what should be expected especially with the concentration of so-called ‘fake news’ that now exists on the internet, coupled with what has been coming from the White House under the Trump Presidency. In fact there was a thought that cinematic documentaries might be a thing of the past especially with the success as well as saturation of Disney-fied blockbusters invading multiplexes, in fact audiences have been flocking to cinemas to seek out stories about real people making real differences in times and places where many others have been marginalised and made powerless by the people in charge in their respective times. Some of the great, as well as critically received, not forgetting making money documentaires at the box office are: “Wont you be my neighbour?” (2018), “Three Identical Strangers” (2018), “Jane” (2018), “RBG” (2018), and my personal favourite “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” (2017) with so many more. What this says about audiences is that they will seek out true stories told in the relative first person that are not only inspiring but are direct counter programming to the politics of the day as well as the lies that are being produced by a President who is not only artificial but hate fuelled. My belief as a fan of documentaries is that this genre will only gain in popularity, with the coming years being a boon as well as revealing the importance of truth in the media as well as the importance of researching decisions made by the electorate. It is no surprise that the rise in fake news, Donald Trump, racism and may other hate fuelled elements has been answered by artists creating documentaries that prove there can be positive outcomes when people choose to buck the system as well as believing in others, differences, freedom and most of all, discussion.
“Behind the Curve” concerns ‘Flat Earthers’, a term synonymous with conspiracy theorists who wear tinfoil hats. Meet real Flat Earthers, a small but growing contingent of people who firmly believe in a conspiracy to suppress the truth that the Earth is flat. One of the most prominent Flat Earthers is Mark Sargent who, in the midst of the upcoming Solar Eclipse, proudly speaks at the first Flat Earther conference.
This is such an excellent documentary that I only wish it had have received a cinematic release, it really deserved that, it covers a variety of subjects without resorting to the lowest common denominator, or treating its actual subjects like jokes, nor does it go out of its way to prove the ‘flat earthers’ wrong which is something it could have done, very easily as well as dismissively. Instead the director has let the ‘flat earthers’ speak not just about their cause but about themselves as well which is a key aspect to this documentary. All at once we learn of the flat earth theory, what the subjects think about it as well as an insight into who these people are with just a hint as to why they believe what they believe no matter who crazy it seems from the outside.
Of course the other elements of the documentary, possibly the most important parts are reflective of our society today especially in terms of the media, politics as well as the current situation we all find ourselves in. The central part which all others feed from seems to be the confluence of social platforms which in turn has led to the uprising of the formation of illogical theories and of course fake news which is uttered here by the main character in an interview to someone who should know better than to feed his fantasy. This documentary also exposes the political divide that exists in the US with the rabid Trump supporters that we see at his rallies as well as the left leaning idealism that seems to have permeated the culture especially since the 2016 election. It is a polite educated left that seeks to educate others to point out the very real concepts of global warming, pro vaccination, science, reason and everything that goes with that while we see the right (for want of a better word) that use instinct as well as a complete disregard for actual science even when they conduct at least two experiments within the documentary that produce results that pretty much prove the Earth is round but are so insistent ignore the results, making up excuses as to the outcome that would mean they are incorrect.
Towards the end of the documentary we are presented with two sides of an argument, one, that the flat earthers are adamant about their theories, actually giving explanations at a conference as to the reasoning behind their acceptance of a flat earth such as the feeling of not fitting in with others, the feeling of always knowing something is wrong with the world as well as a host of other feelings which looking at it from the outside does hint at a certain personality type. This is juxtaposed with a meeting of scientists who are presenting a room with actual ideas, not only that but the final person to speak talks of educating people like the flat earthers, not dismissing them as all that is really required is a conversation to help others, not ridicule or dismiss them, this would only make their ’cause’ stronger, which is not the outcome that is required.
The skill of the director as well as editor and producers is evident in “Behind the Curve” is evident after about fifteen minutes when one understands how the narrative is being formed, it is like many modern documentaries in that it seeks to offer a truth to all viewers all the while sticking to a narrative that could be seen as objective but does actually offer one side of an argument that speaks to mankind’s rational nature all the while embracing what makes us great storytellers, the trick is not to mix fact with fiction no matter how simple that seems at the time.