Hot Docs Review: How to Change the World (Jerry Rothwell, 2015)

I’m not an activist of any kind. I’ve never known Greenpeace to be anything other than Greenpeace International. In my defence, it was literally before my time. But given that man-made environmental and ecological issues are the defining dilemma of this generation just like the A- and H-bombs were in the 50s for the baby bombers (sorry, boomers), it really can’t be brushed aside easily. Compounding that, my lack of any inkling as to the origins of Greenpeace implies a multiversal divide in my intellectual curiosity that I still debate whether to accept. Along came this documentary to the rescue: and it’s perfect. Who better to introduce Our Home and Native species of “flora” and “fauna” than a British filmmaker, now at the “point-of-no-return” as we head toward the global meltdown that few heeded 40 years ago?

Greenpeace started with hippies. And substances. And transcendence. But the origin was far closer to home than I had imagined. In the 1970s, draft-dodgers from the US coalesced with a rampant social movement, rediscovered nature awareness, drugs, rock music and mysticism in Vancouver to form a maelstrom of… laid-back Canadian hippies. From this swirling solution of perfectly random, normal people, a nucleation event began to occur around the Vancouver Sun journalist Bob Hunter. At first it was a reactionary act toward the nuclear bomb test at Amchitka which grew the nucleus, calling itself Greenpeace. Then came the active effort to save the whales aboard and seals at home, which established a self-sustaining growth along different crystal planes. And when the rest of the world saw and realized: “wait a minute, we’re all in the same solution!” So other nucleation events occurred and dozens of equally galling Greenpeace hippie groups spawned abiotically. And then they all had the same thought: “Wait another minute, we’re not some mindless molecules, we’re people! We can’t be the same!” And so the activism turned inward, cresting into a power struggle. Meanwhile, Bob Hunter was encased suffocatingly in an organization that he believed was no longer primarily focused on their real, ecological/environmental mission, and disappointed that people with the same lofty goals can’t/won’t play together. But eventually, the film halts the negativity and screeches toward a warm (pun-intended) ending.

After Greenpeace, Bob Hunter (NOT his namesake who’s an executive for Toronto Raptors/FC/Maple Leaf) went on to CityTV in Toronto, and reported on ecological issues for the remainder of his life. His voice (well, words from his writings) bonded the film together seamlessly. Whether by design or by necessity of the content, Rothwell’s use of that narration receded as this legacy film progressed, working beautifully in parallel with Hunter’s bowing out and retreat from the eco-movement’s power-center. The film carries the spirit of Greenpeace’s late co-founder with clasping hand in gentle march toward the shining seas of greater tomorrow. I say that without the mockery that I generally hold for mystics and hippies. Not only is the film well edited as a historic review of the origins of the Greenpeace organization, it was careful to also impart lessons that all past events have the potential to illuminate and provoke. Chief among them, how will we shepherd this even more fragile environment that we now have, as “sovereign” nations of people with wholly different needs, traditions, and aspirations? The lesser instructives include: should you change your name and appearance to match Tolkien characters? (Answer: Yes. “Walrus Oakenbough” sounds badass and tree-hugging at the same time). Or, must you become silver-haired to look like you gave life your best shot? (Answer: Not really, but it certainly adds gravitas). Speaking of “silver-haired hippie Canadian environmentalist,” at one point in the film a thought came to mind: “where is David Suzuki?” If you want more proof that the visceral hate between climate-change deniers like Patrick Moore (another Greenpeace co-founder) and other environmentalists plays out like a bad family feud, rest assured it is still alive. I’ll leave the left-right-center political conundrum and the position of the Edmonton Sun/News within that totem pole to your imagination.

How to Change the World will be screened again Monday April 27, at 9:30PM in Bloor Cinema. Go and see if you can put together how saving whales and damaging the Nazca lines are related.

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs