“The moment that launched the modern environmental movement”- a Russian whaling harpoon sails 15 feet above a man’s head as conservationists attempt to obstruct it’s task. Greenpeace is born. How to Change the World is an eye opening and inspiring docu-drama that shows Greenpeace at its conception, a tiny organisation fuelled by a passion for conservation and a rabid opposition to the irresponsible establishment. The film examines the bravery of the original ‘eco-warriors’ (this film will leave you using that phrase without the irony it now seems to come with as standard,) in the line of fire, as they took a stand against nuclear testing, whaling and seal clubbing. Based on the writing of Green Peace co-founder Robert Hunter alongside footage of the group’s early exploits the film shows a real, raw activism, far different and far more deserving of the term, than what we know today.
For environmentalists and non-environmentalists alike this film tells a compelling story.
The film’s initial focus is the 1971 voyage made to Amchitka, (an island off Alaska,) in an attempt to stop a planned US nuclear weapons test. This is the earliest iteration of the group, which was later named after the vessel that carried them on the Amchitka trip- The Greenpeace. The plan was to moor the boat near enough to the island that the government felt they could not, in good conscience, detonate the test bomb. While the trip ultimately didn’t achieve all of its goals, the bravery and initiative of the plan and attempt set Greenpeace on a meteoric rise to their own very unique kind of international stardom.
The footage of the effects of the nuclear explosion on Amchitka is utterly stomach turning and the cruelty and conflict displayed elsewhere is little better.
One worry some viewers may have at the idea of a ‘Greenpeace film,’ is that it could turn into a preach-y, sob story-esque charity pitch. But this film is far from it. For environmentalists and non-environmentalists alike this film tells a compelling story. It examines the struggles of passionate, interesting and zany individuals just as much as it deals with ecological issues. Individuals are portrayed as such and seeing Robert Hunter struggle with the heavy burden of leadership while trying to keep the group together is intensely thought provoking. Equally though, it’s not a love letter to Greenpeace and questions its less avant-gard, present day form.
How to Change the World may well be an inspiring tale of un-paralleled ecological heroism but it’s also fantastic cinematically. The film never sacrifices facts for drama, or vice versa, but uses a perfectly crafted mixture of original footage, interviews and even short animated sequences to create a story that grips like a vice from start to finish and shatters plenty of preconceptions along the way.
Overall this multi-award winning piece is much, much more than a film about Greenpeace, it’s, in places, a thoughtful and intimate examination of the human condition- this is shown at its most visceral through combination of original footage and present day reflections of those ‘original eco warriors’. It’s also a stark look into man’s ability to abuse power, make no mistake moments of this film will shock. The footage of the effects of the nuclear explosion on Amchitka is utterly stomach turning and the cruelty and conflict displayed elsewhere is little better. Ultimately, this film deserves it’s plaudits- get your hands on a copy.
By George Storr