Greenpeace has been documented in hundreds of books, films, television specials, magazine articles, blogs, university courses and doctoral dissertations. On 9 September, in some 600 cinemas in the UK and US, Picturehouse and Met Films release their new Greenpeace documentary, How to Change the World. This film, by director Jerry Rothwell, may be the best, most insightful film document yet made about the motivations, inspirations, challenges, and ultimate success of Greenpeace, which introduced non-violent, direct action to restore and preserve Earth’s ecosystems.
The film has been seven years in the making. Rothwell uncovered hundreds of hours of original 16mm film footage from the 1970s, and selected historic, previously unseen moments from the creation of Greenpeace.
Since its beginning, Greenpeace has been a large, extended family. Nevertheless, the film is based on the written memoirs of Greenpeace co-founder Bob Hunter. He was certainly not alone in conceiving of an “ecology movement” on the scale of the peace and civil rights movements, but it is appropriate that this film follows his story.
Friends and family remember Hunter, who passed away in 2005, as a visionary. He saw the shape of an ecology movement before most people had ever heard the word. He wrote groundbreaking journalism, coined the term “mind bomb” to describe using media to inculcate ideas into human culture at the largest scale, and he helped fashion the Greenpeace tradition of creative direct action.
Rex Weyler, John Cormack, and Bob Hunter on board the Phyllis Cormack. 1 Jun, 1975
His two early books The Storming of the Mind and The Enemies of Anarchy provide brilliant analysis of the 1960s global social revolution and the impact of emerging electronic media. He chronicled Greenpeace’s early years in Warriors of the Rainbow, won a Canadian governor general’s award for Occupied Canada, and provided an intimate exploration of youthful angst in his novel, Erebus.
I worked with Hunter for a decade as a journalist and Greenpeace activist. He was not an organizational man, but he possessed genuine leadership, a talent for encouraging participation, devising dramatic protests, and making activism fun.
How to Change the World premiered at the Sundance film festival this spring, where it won the special jury award for editing and the candescent award for best social change documentary. The film earned top ten audience favourite honours at Hot Docs 2015, and best feature honours at both the Sebastopol and EcoFilm festivals.
Starting in 1971, the film follows the small band of friends from Vancouver, Canada, sailing into nuclear test zones, blockading Russian whaling ships, disrupting the Canadian harp seal slaughter, and launching the modern environmental movement.
The extended family is often in dispute with itself, ridiculed and mocked by outsiders, and nearly torn apart by competing egos. Through all of this, we witness the challenges of changing society, the resistance of the status quo, and the very human frailties of the heroes and heroines.
Later this fall, the film will appear on Sky networks in the UK, on Netflix in the US, and other cable networks internationally.
Rex Weyler is an author, journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International.
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