How to Change the World, 2015.
Written and Directed by Jerry Rothwell.
A documentary concerning the formation of Greenpeace and the individuals that motivated the world’s first environmental-peace movement during the early 70’s.
From British director Jerry Rothwell (Deep Water, Town of Runners), comes his latest documentary How to Change the World, a film that documents the evolution of Greenpeace and the conflicts that arose from the groups focus ideology. The documentary attempts to cover both the nuclear disarmament protest that collectively brought together both ‘mystics and mechanics’, and the anti-whaling movement that moved the group further away from protesting for global peace and closer towards defending the rights of animals and the environment. Rothwell continues to run with the testimony and origin story, looking to focus closer on the personal conflict that arose between the original founders of the now world-famous organisation. It seems the film’s tagline, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Organised’ is a very fitting one indeed. How to Change the World ambitiously attempts to include everything in an effort to tell the story of Greenpeace, approaching towards its conclusion to overreach in engaging with so many different issues, explaining everything the organisation accomplished and failed in achieving. However, with that said How to Change the World still remains a strong and striking film, with much to praise while offering a lot to engage with. Rothwell flawlessly combines the narration of Bob Hunter’s memoirs and novels with interviews that reveal both sides of the story, coupled with incredibly striking revived 16mm film and animation that seamlessly connects everything together.
Rothwell’s film respectively retracts from forcing its viewership to witness an excessive amount of animal cruelty filmed during the anti-whaling and anti-sealing protests, displaying just enough to move an audience without implying that the film is in any way environmental Greenpeace propaganda. It accomplishes what a documentary film should, in displaying the reality of the acts without a passive agenda. The visuals of those clips shown are striking and moving to the point of empathy, allowing viewers to understand the movement more fully.
The narration of the film, based on a collection of Bob Hunter’s novels, is used to move the story of Greenpeace chronologically from its origin to its present status. Heavily reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson’s narration in Fear and Loathing and following a similar descriptive monotone voice, Rothwell combines Bob Hunter’s sentiment and manifesto description to emphasise the passion of his ideas and beliefs. How to Change the World as a result is as poetic as it is humorous, breaking down the importance for each characters individual voice. Rothwell emphasises the humour of the characters involved in the movement, splicing footage from interviews with narration to stress a punch line that reveals the benevolence of each person’s intentions. More than this, the decision to illustrate the humanity of the people involved lays the foundations for exploring the infighting between each character, with the understanding that these characters have personal ideologies and very different backgrounds.
One of Rothwell’s greatest feats in conceiving How to Change the World is his ability to build upon the aesthetics of the 70’s period demonstrated in the archive footage used, delving into the flower power, love-child, hippie movement, using psychedelic animation and music to assimilate the viewer into a time where history was being made. A real sense of authenticity is the result of this direction, signifying what it felt to those who lived during this era and the necessity for change that was commended. The animation and soundtrack work fanatically well together, bridging the gaps between interviews and archive footage without ever seeming out-of-place or separate.
The viewer is lead to understand that Greenpeace’s formation was conceived out of an anarchistic collaboration of people’s efforts to change the world for a variety of different reasons. Rothwell exemplifies above all else that Hunter’s ideas around visual media and what he himself called the “mind-bomb”, or what we might now understand as viral media, moved the organisation with all its passion and bravadoes into a limelight that revealed all the differences in what Greenpeace was supposed to represent. This is where the film moves less from the formation of Greenpeace as an organisation and further into how the differences of others crushed Hunter’s original intentions for the environmental movement.
Rothwell’s documentary, much like Dana Nachman’s Batkid, demonstrations to us all that small groups and visual media can in fact impact the world on a large-scale, motivating it to change, but what remains more interesting is how that same change can rebound affecting those that initially started it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★