The (white) man’s drive to conquer nature

NATURE / Philosophical musings on the nature of truth and knowledge through the lens of man's manipulation of nature and Google's domination of the Internet
Director: Adam Diller
Producer: Adam Diller
Country: USA

Project 02 screens as part of the 2023 Ji.hlava iDFF Testimonies programme.

Adam Diller’s Project 02 is a strangely affecting philosophical dive into the nature of truth and knowledge and man’s desire to rein in nature and create priests of ‘information’ between us and knowledge.

Project 02 Adam Diller
Project 02, a film by Adam Diller

Natural for unnatural

Ostensibly an attempt to learn precisely what is contained within a gigantic Google data processing centre built on the banks of an ancient Native American salmon fishing river in Oregon, Project 02 veers off into a curious and compelling examination of man’s relationship with nature, himself, and inner knowing.

Spoiler alert: we learn little about precisely why Google is so secretive about its massive data processing centres (they have tons of them around the US and Europe, each consuming as much electricity in a year as the whole of San Francisco) other than that they need their own purpose-built power plants to run them.

What we do learn about is the history of man’s (well, white settler man’s) drive to conquer nature and destroy natural resources for unnatural in the process.

What we do learn about is the history of man’s (well, white settler man’s) drive to conquer nature and destroy natural resources for unnatural in the process.

Filling in the gaps

The massive Dulles CHK Google processing centre sits on the site of a demolished aluminium smelter plant, which like the cloud data storage centre, ran on electricity supplied by a vast hydroelectric power plant opened in the 1950s by then-vice president Richard Nixon.

Diller, who writes, films, directs, narrates, and produces, makes effective use of archive footage, filling in the gaps in the Google story (the Internet giant does not even bother to respond to his requests for access, though their security guards spy on him as he shoots from outside the sturdy iron fence) plundering YouTube and other sources that include footage shot in the rented house where Google was founded way back when; images of bulky old monitors and very young computer nerds remind us of how recent this story is.

Project 02 Adam Diller
Project 02, a film by Adam Diller

Against modernity

Against all this striving modernity, Diller contrasts the geological age of the river, the ancient petroglyphs that have survived blasting and digging, and the stories of the local Native American’s who have lost their ancestral salmon fishing grounds.

There are lots of wistful images of swirling river water, windswept bluffs, rocks, and more rocks in Project 02. The dialogue consists of vaguely heard off-camera conversations with passers-by, archival clips of voice-overs on the old US Corps of Engineers’ public service films, and stream-of-consciousness from the director.

Antique books of old Native stories – the deal the wily coyote does with the salmon to allow them to come and go to their breeding grounds if they surrender some of their stock for him to eat – and oral history of long-dead Native saved for posterity on old-fashioned cassette tapes, give texture to what is a deep dive into man’s relationship with nature and the direction that we, as a species, are headed in.

Project O2 is an unusual little film (just over an hour long) that somehow, despite the sobriety of its subject, leaves viewers feeling better about themselves and the world.

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Nick Holdsworth
Nick Holdsworth
Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

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