DOCU. “The Pandemic Factory” by Marie-Monique Robin

It is not because there is Juliette Binoche in the credits that one has to imagine a folk film. The infectious laughing actress, who marvels at stunning landscapes, is above all there to learn, like the spectator, the extent to which the health of our people depends on animals and plants. And as a summary towards the end of this journey with several meetings in eight countries on four continents, “The more we clear forests, the more we lose biodiversity, the more epidemics we have … This is the factory of pandemics”. Hence the title, which Marie-Monique Robin (1), winner of the Albert London Prize and multi-award winning director, gave to her self-produced documentary after the publication of the homonymous book, the editors of which she emphasizes, “let him patiently mature his film project”. A kind of cinematic feat performed internationally in times of a pandemic.

The fear of one “epidemic era of pandemics”

The scenery is beautiful, from Guyana to Gabon, from Thailand to Madagascar, via Mexico. They delight the eye and capture the mind to convey the main message: everything is connected. In the field, a dozen dedicated researchers (2) strive to make the viewer understand the connections that unite forests, lakes and rivers, animals that live there – we find them in magnificent drawings by illustrator Valentine Plessy when they stick to hidden in trees, grass, their caves or under water – with us humans. Goal: to make people understand that “everything remains quiet” when we do not disturb the ecosystems, but that the disease-causing agents that nature abounds in are otherwise ready to attack.

“If we continue to destroy ecosystems, we will experience ‘an era of epidemic pandemics'”, predicts parasitologist Serge Morand (CNRS). This terrestrial destruction (the film remains on the continents and does not explore the sea) is essentially due to deforestation, climatic extremes or urbanization, recalls Rodolphe Gozlan (IRD), who can be found in Guyana. “the threat of extinction of one million species, including a quarter of mammals”.

“There is no doubt about the erosion of biodiversity”
“Biodiversity is a legacy that we have inherited and that we must strive to pass on to future generations”, insists biologist Bernard Chevassus-au-Louis, who, along with Michèle Sebag (CNRS), piloted a report for the Academy of Technologies, published Wednesday, May 18, 2022, entitled The Erosion of Biodiversity. What can (and does not say) science say? “Four billion years ago, living beings invented the coding of information about DNA, and we discover today, in the face of the unsustainable nature of the massive storage of information about silicon, that this is clearly an excellent find of biodiversity.”, he emphasizes in his conclusions to the report. No irony in this, but a reminder of the great and at times extremely surprising significance of the skilful solutions which nature found at a time when “erosion of biodiversity is beyond doubt”, as the introductory summary reminds us. The latter provides the most up-to-date figures in the field, which underlines it “the current rate of extinction of species is between 100 and 1,000 times higher than the average rate since life began on earth, and 10 to 100 times faster than any mass extinction in the past”.

The food chains are then disrupted, the regulation of the species as well, and end up multiplying “reservoirs” of pathogens (animals “healthy carriers”), which endanger humans. It is not only mosquitoes (650 species) or bats (more than 1400 species) that we learn that they also “know about stress”, and as the film shows us subjected to tests with cotton swabs in the nose of duly protected virologists .. .

“Between 1 and 5 incidences of infectious diseases per year compared to one every fifteenth year until 1970”

They may be friendly shrimp carrying a mycobacterium that causes Buruli ulcers, a neglected tropical disease for which the World Health Organization (WHO) established a network of laboratories in 2019. We see that the massive breeding of domesticated animals – 1 billion 600 million cows, 30 billion chickens – can become “intermediate hosts” that promote the humanization of viruses from wild animals. And we better understand why infectious diseases, 70% of zoonoses, multiply, “between one and five occurrences per year, against one every fifteen years until 1970”, according to WHO figures. At the time of Covid19, whose exact origin we still do not know, but which appeared in Wuhan (China), in an area that had been clearly identified as in danger even before the onset of the pandemic, the spectator understands all the urgency with substance. But we must not forget the pictures. Marie-Monique Robin would like to point out that here she is doing “homage to nature that we can no longer keep sacrificing, of pain of sacrificing our own children”. The beauty of the landscapes, the grace of the monkeys or the birds and the laughter of Juliette Binoche help to hold on for an hour and forty, despite the anxious observation.

1) “The Factory of Pandemics”, to be watched on UshuaïaTV, May 22 at. 20.45.

2) About thirty institutions and associations supported the production, including Unesco, the French Office for Biodiversity, IRD, Cirad, Inrae, Natural History Museum, Department of Tropical and Public Medicine in Basel, Emory University (Atlanta).

Leave a Comment