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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Comments (5)
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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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