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[SXSW ’21] ‘We Are as Gods’ review: Fascinating look at de-extinction & Stewart Brand

Can you pass the acid test?

We Are as Gods is a documentary about the life of Stewart Brand. Brand is one of the most controversial and influential thinkers of the past century. He has been an advocate for the environment and passed out free LSD. His entire life has been spent seemingly ahead of the curve. Yet, his new idea even has his most ardent supporters confused.

The documentary starts as many do. There are clips of Brand’s life with voice overs that speak fondly of his life. We Are as Gods may be about an extraordinary subject, but it gets off to a very ordinary start. Then, a comment is made that makes it clear this will not be just another documentary. Brand is in support of de-extinction as a way to help the planet.

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As someone states in We Are as Gods, “wooly mammoths will save the world” is a fantastic way of describing de-extinction. While the statement is grandiose, it is in fact the process of bringing back extinct animals. The documentary does not just go over the question of how to bring extinct animals back, it also discusses the ethical questions behind it. The science and technology is interesting enough, the moral quandaries make the film that much more engaging.

[SXSW '21] 'We Are as Gods' review: Fascinating look at de-extinction & Stewart Brand

With a topic as controversial as de-extinction, the film almost seems forced to have the audience to make a choice. This may be the best part of We Are as Gods. While the documentary does land on one side, it never asks the audience to do so. On the contrary, it gives time to Brand’s critics, which makes the audience think.

The documentary is not just about the controversial de-extinction project. The filmmakers also go into Brand’s varied life. From his days helping inadvertently bringing hippies to Haight-Ashbury to his work on the Whole Earth Catalog, the film is a deep dive into some of the most celebrated moments Brand is known for.

SXSW is March 16 – March 20. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.

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