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What We’re Watching – May 2015

by Sarah Reibstein on 28th May 2015

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This is part of an ongoing series highlighting what our members are currently reading and watching in the Post Growth and sustainability realms. 

Screenshot 2015-05-26 22.42.15

Revolution – directed by Rob Stewart

The second feature film of Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, Revolution is a beautifully wrought tale of the biggest threats to our planet and the movement to reverse them. It will no doubt inspire a countless many, particularly youth, to join the cause.

The film opens behind the scenes of Stewart’s first film, Sharkwater, in which he shed light on the plight of the global shark population. It brings us to a screening in Hong Kong where he is faced with a tough question from an audience member: what’s the point of banning shark finning if the UN predicts the collapse of world fisheries by 2048? He has no real answer. Yet even as he admits that, “If she was right, my last six years meant nothing,” he commits to seeing this question through. This is the fuel for his next quest, which becomes Revolution – watch the trailer below and the full film here.

Stewart and his crew travel to New Guinea, where we see haunting images of lifeless coral reefs and learn about the threat of mass extinction from ocean acidification. Discovering that the only thing we can do to stop ocean acidification is stop burning fossil fuels is the next turning point – we then head to Copenhagen to learn about the climate community. Moving from anti-coal activists in Washington, D.C., to deforestation in Madagascar, the fight for the Alberta tar sands, and finally the UN climate conference in Cancun, the film deftly leads us through the landscape of the modern environmental movement. It unravels the truth that it’s not about saving the oceans, it’s about saving us all – and we are our own worst enemy in the struggle.

Stewart’s personal awakenings on these issues provide a useful and engaging structure for the film. His journey from a fascination with a single problem to the realization of its systemic causes is one many of us at the Post Growth Institute are familiar with, and he makes it easy for viewers to come along. The way he dives (no pun intended) into the world around him, rather than merely “documenting” from a detached perspective, is also admirable. His narration is unfailingly enthusiastic and sincere. Stewart’s skill as a nature photographer and knowledge of marine biology are also of course huge assets to the film. He affords us a stunning glimpse into the deepest reaches of ocean biodiversity. One cannot help but feel awe when face to face with the otherworldly flamboyant cuttlefish, or the fingernail-sized pygmy seahorse.

Yet ultimately it is when the filmmaker lets others shine that he is most effective. A particularly inspiring scene shows a class of 6th grade students in the Northern Mariana Islands who, moved by Sharkwater, wrote to their government and helped get a bill passed to ban shark finning in the Commonwealth. These kids are passionate, smart, and, dare I say it, ready to change the world. Equally touching, though heartbreaking, is the coverage of the Canadian youth delegation to COP 16. Their persistent stunts to get the attention of their representatives are incredibly creative, astute, and moving. Yet they continually find themselves on the outside of closed doors and are eventually forced out of the convention. Their tears as they refuse to be silent while being forcibly led onto buses (they are counting out the number of climate-related deaths in 2010) betray the deep injustice of the situation.

While the film should serve as a rallying cry and an eye-opening introduction to or survey of these issues, I did find myself disappointed with where it ended. The film portrays very clearly the limits of climate activism; in addition to the UN youth delegation experience, we see power plant protesters being ignored, and hear repeatedly that business and government are simply not designed to be up to the task of saving the planet. Yet viewers are left with hardly any plausible alternatives on the table. We need to take back power and join the “revolution” – but how? There is a brief mention of Via Campesina and the Cochabamba Accord (Rights of Mother Earth) as possible models – this was the exception and I would have liked to see more of this.

In my view, Nnimmo Bassey gets it right when he sums up the problem towards the end of the film:

The world is being run on a basis of competition right now … but really what we should do is we are living well on this earth … And this is where the revolution starts. Changing the mindsets, changing the concepts, and realigning human beings to look at how we can work together.

Rob also asks:

What if we had a world to fight for, instead of fighting against our problems? What kind of a world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?

This kind of thinking is what is needed to make change when our governments and businesses won’t.

Stewart seems to be on a natural progression from Sharkwater to Revolution in getting to the core of the issue – perhaps the third film in this series could be how to bring about positive change, and the role of post growth, solidarity economy, and peer-to-peer movements in helping create that change!

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avatar Sarah is a researcher working with non-profits and philanthropy in New York. With a background in economics and cultural anthropology, she takes a social view of the economy, which has led her to believe we are in need of systemic transformation to get to an economy that serves us all.

Sarah has written 2 posts on Post Growth Institute.

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