Documentarian David Bond is the worried father of two young children. Like many kids raised in the city, his kids spend most of their day indoors and an inordinate amount of time in front of screens of one type or another. Inspired by a growing trepidation, the filmmaker appoints himself the ‘Managing Director of Nature’ and decides to market what the outdoors has to offer. The result is Project Wild Thing (2013), a kind of prog-doc both raising awareness of an issue and to some extent trying to solve it. Imagine a small-scale version of 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth riffed upon by an English, middle-class Morgan Spurlock.
Bond seeks the advice of professionals in marketing as well as experts in psychology and social welfare. He quizzes school children, trying to encourage them to see something positive in going outside and communes with nature via an owl named ‘Merlin’. Finally, we see the campaign he launches and follow its ups and downs as Bond uses advertising, the internet and various publicity stunts to raise awareness and encourage us to take our offspring outside. He’s certainly persuasive about the dangers of consumerism and the subsequent disconnecting from our environment, coming across as a sincere and well-meaning campaigner. However, his very niceness makes for a rather bland, bushy-tailed host.
Bond isn’t equipped with the genuine righteous confrontational anger of Michael Moore, nor is he as playful as Spurlock. More importantly, being a campaigner he’s fatally inside his own bubble and lacks the scepticism of a Jon Ronson. His lack of self-awareness sees him enthusiastically carry around a box depicting a picture postcard view of nature, before wondering why his guinea pigs don’t react to it. The jingle for the campaign is naff and the number of pledges the website gets seems on the low side – yet he declares everything a triumph. This bubble also means there are blind spots. Although he interviews a cross-section of kids from a London school, when he interviews concerned parents he selects a gaggle of like-minded individuals, who echo his own ‘I know I shouldn’t but I do’ approach to parenting.
At one point, Bond even wheels out his own mother to talk about the “good old days”, going as far as to show us where he fell off his bike. The inherent narcissism of the argument – nature as therapy, nature as product – comes to the fore when the director uses his own daughter as the poster girl for his cause (and gets her to lick a frog). In order to inject a sense of drama into Project Wild Thing and to bring it to some kind of conclusion, we get to see an argument between Bond and his wife. Even this scene feels more staged than the part where he dresses up as a squirrel. Ultimately, the environment and our unique relationship with it deserves something a little better, a little bolder and a little less complacent.