This is a film memory from elementary school back in the mid-1970s. I’m not sure if what I remember is just scenes from a longer film or the entirety of a 15-minute short.
It is a dark, wet, foggy night in a dark, wet, dirty world, and a man in a muddied rain slicker carries a plain grocery-store-style paper bag under his arm as he enters a grimy, crowded bus. The planet’s been polluted into a toxic hell — the other passengers hunkered down on the benches wear scarves and kerchiefs over their mouths and noses, surgical masks, respirators, even full gas masks, and stare ahead with hopeless eyes (those that aren’t covered by goggles); no one looks out the smeared or shattered windows into the smokey darkness outside.
But the man with the bag is nervous. He looks back and forth at the other passengers, hugging the bag in his lap protectively. His fingers roll the crumpled top of the bag over and over, tighter and tighter. No one seems to notice him. The bus trundles along.
Wait, did something in the bag just move? A couple of bulging spasms from within the paper? He pulls the sack closer to his chest, darts a glance back at his fellow travelers, and tucks the bag back under his arm.
The bus stops and our man exits. He takes a few steps down the pavement towards the silhouette of a row of houses. He turns around back toward the bus stop and scans the street for any onlookers. Sure that he’s alone, he hurries toward a dilapidated plank fence in a weedy lot between two houses and clambers through past a couple of loose boards. Down beyond the side of a derelict house the man reaches a jerry-built jumble of glass and tarp and steel. Another glance over his shoulder, and he steps inside.
It is a greenhouse. Ferns and flowers and saplings surround a little man-made pond and fountain. The man’s face relaxes — he smiles.
He undoes the rolled-up top of the sack and pulls out a rather sizable tortoise. The man takes it to a workbench and turns it around in his hands, inspecting it. He places it on the table, pulls a brush from a jar of white paint, and draws the circle-and-spear symbol for “male” on its carapace. He picks it up and places it at the edge of the little pond. Another tortoise, this one emblazoned with a female symbol, creeks its way toward the water.
The man turns away to tend to his plants, watering, weeding. I think one or two little bunny rabbits hop out of the underbrush and make their way toward the pond.
And then a THUD breaks the aura of tranquility. The man wheels around toward the sound. A face and two hands press up against the glass wall beyond the pond. The silhouette of one hand disappears, A shadowy fist reappears against the glass with another THUD. Another face peers into the greenhouse. This person starts banging against the wall as well. More faces and hands join in, surrounding the building. The structure shimmies and buckles under the attack.
Our protagonist crouches beside the pond. The crowd now has sticks and rocks. Glass shatters, tarps rip. The structure collapses. Potted plants are kicked over, flower beds are trampled. The man disappears under the converging mob.
FADE TO BLACK.
So, wasn’t that a nice educational film to share with the little ones in 2nd or 3rd Grade?
It’s been almost 40 years since I’ve seen it, but it has certainly left its mark. I’m not sure if this site even looks at ephemera like educational materials or just shorts in general, but I’ve spent years looking for the title of this film, or even for someone else who vaguely recollects having seen it. If this is all some illusion of memory, it’s a remarkably vivid one. If I’m not completely crazy and someone else knows what I’m talking about, is that really the ending? Not even a twinkle of hope out there for humanity?
Technically speaking: it was a 16mm film, black and white (or perhaps color with an extremely greyed-down palette), harshly lit in high contrast, with sound, but without dialogue. I saw it in my “home room” sometime around 1976-77, or perhaps a little later, in Phoenix, Arizona. It was certainly not presented as a typical educational movie with Leave-It-to-Beaver muzak and patronizing narration — this was an art film with a serious, if not too subtle, eco-political/moral message.
Thanks to everyone who has stuck with this post all the way to the end. I appreciate your consideration, and would be grateful for any clues about the identity of this film, or any suggestions of other resources, online or off, that I could take advantage of in continuing my search.