A man hands over the money and stands on his place at the end of a plank, then the operator takes a large mallet and whacks the other end, creating a see-saw effect that sees the man hurtle through the air, straight up and through the crust of pollution that the world is engulfed by. At this altitude, he manages to take a few breaths of clean air before falling back down to earth, whereupon the cycle continues - a queue of hundreds, maybe thousands, of smoke-choked people are awaiting their turn on the see-saw. This may be a humorous cartoon, but scientist and lecturer Fred H. Knelman is here to tell us something important about the future of the globe, and it's not good...
The National Film Board of Canada teamed up with a Croatian, Zagreb-based studio to craft this environmentalist mini-epic which saw a talk from a reclining Knelman looking comfortable on a sofa and sporting a yin and yang medallion over his short-sleeved shirt, presumably to emphasise his spiritual side and support his words which were a warning for the future. Bear in mind this was made in 1973 and the subject of pollution has not gone away well into the twenty-first century, which served to render Man: The Polluter both a relic of its time and a work that still had a lot to say about how we should combat the issues brought up.
Knelman did not get the floor to himself, as to bolster and comment on his talk there were those cartoons liberally dosed around the chat, which he appeared to have seen before offering his thoughts since he reflected on a couple during his discourse. They were directed by a selection of animators, mostly from Eastern Europe, though the major coup the film made surprisingly little of was to harness the talents of Chuck Jones, the legendary Loony Tunes director of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck fame. As those characters were owned by Warner Bros they failed to appear here, but what was more baffling was there was no indication of which of the shorts were Jones' work.
So he could really have helmed just about any of them (though not all, one or two were patently not his efforts), but the actual piece he directed was a mystery if you cared to examine the credits once the fairly brief (just under an hour) feature had run its course. Mind you, as most of the toons were in very similar vein, opting for a semi-humorous treatment of a very serious subject, then perhaps the authorship was not as important as the message they and the lecturer were conveying, not that the effect turned monotonous, far from it, there were sufficient variations on the theme for this to be worthwhile even after all this time. The supposed progress we have made since, the recycling and clean-up campaigns, were not mentioned by Knelman in his predictive views on where society was heading.
At times you wonder how sincere he is, for his notions of using time travel to transport garbage back to the past and get rid of it that way were put across with much the same tone as his more sensible observations about how technology, for example, was only going to exacerbate the crisis, from the masses of power needed to sustain it to the more personal concerns such as the erosion of privacy. You had the impression the cartoons were largely included to sweeten the pill of a very bleak outlook, and they were entertaining, positing how mankind would evolve in polluted surroundings (by transforming back into dinosaurs, apparently) or how the technology would concoct a virtual reality that would mask the horror of a decayed environment or even replace human interaction with computers and machines. It's true there was little optimistic here, though one section examined how being nice would work out, but it took the position of serving up the worst-case scenarios and keeping that in mind, prompted the audience to think on what could be done to prevent them. The NFBC was well known for its animation and documentaries; here was a potent combination of the two styles. Music by Tomislav Simovic.