Human: The Movie Features Interviews with 2,020 People from 60 Countries on What It Means to Be Human

What is it that makes us human? And how best to ensure that we all get our fair say?

For director, photographer, and environmental activist Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the answers lay in framing all of his interview subjects using the same single image layout. The formal simplicity and unwavering gaze of his new documentary, Human, encourage viewers to perceive his 2,020 subjects as equals in the storytelling realm.

There’s a deep diversity of experiences on display here, arranged for maximum resonance.

The quietly content first wife of a polygamist marriage is followed by a polyamorous fellow, whose unconventional lifestyle is a source of both torment and joy.

There’s a death row inmate. A lady so confident she appears with her hair in curlers.

Where on earth did he find them?

His subjects hail from 60 countries. Arthus-Bertrand obviously went out of his way to be inclusive, resulting in a wide spectrum of gender and sexual orientations, and subjects with disabilities, one a Hiroshima survivor.

Tears, laughter, conflicting emotions… students of theater and psychiatry would do well to bookmark this page. There’s a lot one can glean from observing these subjects’ unguarded faces.

The project was inspired by an impromptu chat with a Malian farmer. The director was impressed by the frankness with which this stranger spoke of his life and dreams:

I dreamed of a film in which the power of words would resonate with the beauty of the world. Putting the ills of humanity at the heart of my work—poverty, war, immigration, homophobia—I made certain choices. Committed, political choices. But the men talked to me about everything: their difficulty in growing as well as their love and happiness. This richness of the human word lies at the heart of Human. 

In Volume I, above, the interviewees consider love, women, work, and poverty. Volume II deals with war, forgiveness, homosexuality, family, and the afterlife. Happiness, education, disability, immigration, corruption, and the meaning of life are the concerns of the third volume .

The interview segments are broken up by aerial sequences, reminiscent of the images in Arthus-Bertrand’s book, The Earth from Above. It’s a good reminder of how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

Appropriately, given the subject matter, and the director’s longtime interest in environmental issues, the filming and promotion were accomplished in the most sustainable way, with the support of the GoodPlanet Foundation and the United Carbon Action program. It would be lovely for all humanity if this is a feature of filmmaking going forward.

The Google Cultural Institute has a collection of related material, from the making of the soundtrack to behind-the-scenes reminiscences of the interview team.

Human will be added to our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

Related Content:

What Makes Us Human?: Chomsky, Locke & Marx Introduced by New Animated Videos from the BBC

Richard Dawkins Explains Why There Was Never a First Human Being

Biology That Makes Us Tick: Free Stanford Course by Robert Sapolsky

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her new play, Fawnbook, opens in New York City later this fall. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Quetzal says:

    Thank you for sharing this documentary, I doubt I would have found it otherwise. It really is a beautiful work, I enjoyed listening to every single interviewee in every part, and I wished that it didn’t end. I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to experience it, and it makes me feel more hopeful for the future.

  • Mariela says:

    I am grateful to have come accross this documentary. Its beautiful in art and rich in culture. Real people no actors. Real human being and their struggles, their joy, their fears. Love the its originality, the background music and pictures of different parts of the world. Truely, beautiful.

  • Dede says:

    Watching from Bangkok, Thailand. Here from USA with my husband…and had a lot of time in the hotel. Something about the language barrier and cultural experience inspired me to what these films. I will be talking about them to eveyone I know and recommend they watch them. There is some very useful information here that the bridges the gap between all humans. Thank you! I loved every word and image of these films.

  • noureldin mohamed says:

    thank you for sharing it really touching documentary of daily human experiences that express in so many ways good as well as bad

  • noureldin mohamed says:

    thank you for sharing it really touching documentary of daily human experiences that express in so manways in good as well as bad.

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