“Can I be honest with you? I’ve always kind of hated films about climate change.” With this statement, Naomi Klein, progressive activist and acclaimed author of two bestsellers, “The Shock Doctrine” and recently “This Changes Everything,” narrates the film that addresses many of the groundbreaking ideas in her award-winning book. The book carries the subtitle “Capitalism vs. The Climate.” The film, This Changes Everything, is probably the only one of over 400 titles presented this year at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that overtly challenges the dominance of this destructive socio-economic system of profit that is wreaking havoc on the environment and peoples of the world.
But it’s subtle and not didactic. The film spends almost 50 minutes introducing us to victims of global warming caused by the capitalist drive for super profits, before the actual “c” word is even mentioned. And then it’s done sheepishly by a Greek woman who when asked what she feels is the cause of all this social and environmental destruction, quietly asks if it’s OK to mention “the social system.”
The film begins with a substantial introduction to the First Nation people who are losing their tribal lands in Alberta to the Canadian tar sands, the largest industrial project in the world. It then sympathizes with several of the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York, moving next to a young Montana farming couple who are faced with the loss of their dreams of living in an idyllic wilderness when a dangerous oil spill destroys their ponds and local environment.
But the film ultimately gains momentum when it comes upon the angry and frustrated Greeks who are dealing with the effects of the austerity plan. The power of their organizing work which resulted in the election of the left-wing Syriza Party brings energy to the film. Continuing the momentum, the filmmakers then move to India where they come upon empowered villagers who have been protesting daily for almost a year plans to privatize their wetlands for a power plant that wouldn’t even service their community.
People reacting to these severe environmental crises prompted Klein to describe her journey thusly, “I’ve spent six years walking through the wreckage caused by the carbon in the air and the economic system that put it there.” She reasons, “That old paradigm will be forced to change either by the environment around us, or by us.”
She provides hope by suggesting, “What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance you’re ever going to get to build a better world?” In Germany, for example, energy production has transitioned back to public control and created 400,000 jobs and 900 new energy co-ops where they’ve de-privatized energy utilities. They now boast 30 percent renewables, which is more than any economy in the industrial world. People’s movements made this happen.
Like the book (now available in paperback), the film offers a fresh approach to fighting the destructive forces of capitalism, ideas that are even endorsed by the Pope. Klein explains, “We can seize the existential crisis of climate change to transform our failed economic system into something radically better.” Klein even spoke recently at the Vatican to voice shared concerns about climate change being on a collision course with capitalism.
The book and film both started together five years ago. Klein and her director husband, Avi Lewis, gained the support of famed Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) after he produced a short film about Klein’s book, Shock Doctrine to be included as an extra in his DVD of The Children of Men. This Changes Everything is Lewis’s interpretation of the core ideas of the book, rather than a film of the book itself, since the text hadn’t been completed while he was filming. Cuarón signed on as executive producer as he became increasingly impressed with the importance of the project.
This is the second film project for Canadian director, Avi Lewis. His first documentary, The Take, won raves in 2004 as it documented Argentine workers taking over empty factory buildings and creating worker run co-ops.
Avi Lewis answered a few questions in an exclusive interview:
PW: Why was the subtitle “Capitalism vs The Climate” not used in the film?
AL: For me it’s absolutely clear the central issue we’re struggling with globally is capital. The profit motive has a way of trumping all other concerns…. Climate change is a message from earth saying this can’t go on…. So the question is how to communicate those ideas. In the U.S. there’s a reticence to talk about the “c” word. There’s the question of how you talk about it…. With a doc, I hope to reach a wider audience. I wanted the “c” word to be said at a particular moment in the film, and not have the people go into the film thinking it’s a conversation about capitalism. I think it’s good to address these things holistically rather than dogmatically…. And now it’s the Pope and Bernie Sanders talking about the connection between global warming and economic inequality. People are so ready for this.
PW: How will change really be effected?
AL: The kind of responses needed are policy responses. I am a policy wonk by heart. I come from a political family and I believe very much that the way change will and must happen is through citizens, social and people’s movements, building power outside of the electoral system and forcing politicians to actually see their own self interest in doing the right thing…. I didn’t want the film to have a laundry list of policies. We launched a political manifesto online instead, called LEAP, with 15 policy demands. A doc is where you tell stories that have the power to move people.
PW: What do you think of the relevance today of your 2004 documentary?
AL: The Take is still relevant and the film is still out there. It prompted the start of an organization called the Working World, which provides funds to worker-run businesses and co-ops. We supported the biggest industrial co-op conversion in a generation in the U.S., which is now called New Era Windows and Doors, in Chicago. The fund now has $3 million in it, which exclusively supports democratic businesses across the U.S. and Canada.
PW: How will this new film work within the activist community?
AL: We have been working really hard with our sales people, a visionary company, and visionary investors. First a commercial release that has a potential to reach people beyond the activist world – the plan prioritizes groups and people who will use the film as an organizing tool. The film will open theatrically in New York Oct. 2nd at the IFC Theater and then Los Angeles and other major cities. Then after October 20th we’re doing more than 30 special event screenings across the U.S., and at each launch we’re partnering with at least two groups. The same day it will also go up on iTunes. The trailer is already No 1 on iTunes Store. Community screenings can be booked at TUGG for fundraisers. So we’re making the film available in all these ways at the same time, which is quite unusual. Based on the amazing reception of Naomi’s book, so far there are over 840 requests from groups around the world to have local screenings, even before it was advertised anywhere. But films and books don’t change the world, movements do.
As a footnote, the movie ends with a classic song from the legendary movement singer Barbara Dane, with lyrics that include “it isn’t nice to block the doorway (and many other things), but if that’s freedom’s price… we don’t mind.”
You can check out the trailer at Www.thischangeseverything.org The website is loaded with valuable tools for activists, including the LEAP Manifesto, a call for a Canada based on caring for the earth and each other, now signed by over 25,000 supporters. The website also sports a “Beautiful Solutions” page where activist groups offer alternative solutions to the crisis of capitalism. Klein and Lewis will be at the opening on Oct 2nd at the IFC Theater in New York, followed by Los Angeles, then iTunes and then at an activist venue near you!
Photo: Burning sugar cane field; still from “This Changes Everything.” | official film site