How to Change the World . A Buffalo Premiere!
Ticket Information: Free and Open to the Public
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courtesy of press kit:
How to Change the World chronicles the adventures of an eclectic group of young pioneers – Canadian hippie journalists, photographers, musicians, scientists, and American draft dodgers – who set out to stop Richard Nixon’s atomic bomb tests in Amchitka, Alaska, and end up creating the worldwide green movement.
Greenpeace was founded on tight knit, passionate friendships forged in Vancouver in the early 1970s. Together they pioneered a template for environmental activism which mixed daring iconic feats and worldwide media: placing small rubber inflatables between harpooners and whales, blocking ice-breaking sealing ships with their bodies, spraying the pelts of baby seals with dye to make them valueless in the fur market. The group had a prescient understanding of the power of media, knowing that the advent of global mass communications meant that the image had become a more effective tool for change than the strike or the demonstration. But by the summer of 1977, Greenpeace Vancouver was suing Greenpeace San Francisco and the organization had become a victim of its own anarchic roots – saddled with large debts and frequent in-fighting.
How to Change the World draws on interviews with the key players and hitherto unseen archive footage, which brings these extraordinary characters and their intense, sometimes eccentric and often dangerous world alive. Somehow the group transcended the contradictions of its members to undertake some of the most courageous and significant environmental protests in history.
The film spans the period from the first expedition to enter the nuclear test zone in 1971 through the first whale and seal campaigns, and ends in 1979, when, victims of their own success, the founders gave away their central role to create Greenpeace International. At its heart is Bob Hunter, a charismatic journalist who somehow managed to bind together the ‘mystics and the mechanics’ into a group with a single purpose, often at huge cost to himself. The story is framed by his first person narrative, drawn from his writings and journals about the group, voiced alongside animations based on his early comics.
How to Change the World is an intimate portrait of the group’s original members and of activism itself—idealism vs. pragmatism, principle vs. compromise. They agreed that a handful of people could change the world; they just couldn’t always agree on how to do it.
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In the vaults of the Greenpeace archives in Amsterdam lie over a thousand silver cans of 16mm film, many unopened since the 1970s, which hold the record of a unique attempt to effect global change.
In Vancouver, amidst the cultural ferment of the late 1960s, a small group of friends set out to shift the way people think about the place of humans in nature. Today’s Greenpeace, with its 41 national offices around the globe and 2.7 million members, had its origins in the activities of a handful of ‘mystics and mechanics’ in one small city forty years ago.
What drew me to the story of the Greenpeace founders is that it is the story of all nascent groups. The men and women who came together in those early years were an eclectic gang whose different skills contributed to a group that combined scientific rigour and engineering savvy with beliefs in the I-ching and Native American prophecies. Some were in it for the politics, some for the science, some just for the adventure. But like a band with an unexpected hit song that catapults them to global fame, the media success of their first anti-whaling campaign forced them into a maelstrom, which at times threatened to destroy everything they had accomplished.
Greenpeace’s founders didn’t set out to create an international organisation, but they found one building up around them. The group of once like-minded friends gradually found themselves pulled in different directions by power struggles and interpersonal conflicts that turned colleagues into rivals ‘How can we save the planet’, wrote Bob Hunter, their reluctant leader, ‘if we cannot save ourselves?’ Success started to depend not only on what they did – but on how they worked with each other.
The group had a prescient understanding of the power of media, knowing that capturing the perfect image was the most powerful weapon of all. But their footage richly evokes not only the dramatic actions they undertook, but their friendships and conflicts, dilemmas and decisions – a sometimes crazy mix of psychedelia and politics, science and theatre. In Bob Hunter they found the perfect chronicler of their adventures – a novelist, comic book artist and gonzo journalist equipped with a comic eye and a searing honesty about his own and his group’s failings. Bob’s writings are the backbone of How To Change The World – giving a personal, intimate portrait of events and people.
The Greenpeace founders’ reflections on their own past speak to us about dilemmas, not only of environmentalism, but of all movements for change, and also of the dilemmas of growing up and growing older: the tension between youthful idealism, ego and courage on the one hand, and maturity, pragmatism and political manoeuvring on the other.
At a time when we need to engage with environmental and wider political problems on a global scale, hopefully this story of one small group of people can get us thinking not only about how we act individually but in partnership with each other.
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Jerry Rothwell (Director) is a documentary filmmaker whose work includes the award-winning feature documentaries, Donor Unknown (More 4/Arte/CBC/PBS/VPRO) about a sperm donor and his many offspring which premiered at Tribeca FF and was nominated for a Grierson Award; Town of Runners (PBS/Arte/RHK/ITVS/KINOSMITH) was released theatrically in the UK by Dogwoof and also premiered at Tribeca Film Festival. Heavy Load (IFC/ITVS/BBC), about a group of people with learning disabilities who form a punk band, and Deep Water (Pathe/IFC/FilmFour/UK Film Council co-directed with Louise Osmond), about Donald Crowhurst’s ill-fated voyage in the 1968 round the world yacht race winner of Best Cinema Documentary at The Rome Film Festival and winner of a Grierson Award for best Cinema Documentary. In 2012 Jerry won a prestigious Royal Television Award for his directing work on Donor Unknown and Town of Runners. His next film will be Sour Grapes for Netflix and Arte co-directed with Reuben Atlas. At Met Film Production, he has Executive Produced and worked as an editor on numerous feature docs including Dylan Williams’ Men Who Swim and Sarah Gavron’s The Village At The End Of The World. http://www.jerryrothwell.com
Here is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:
12/21/15 – “Lessons in Activism” by Bo Franklin at VICE – link
1/13/16 – “Whatever your politics, this documentary about the founders of Greenpeace is essential viewing.” Rupert Hawksley, The Telegraph – link
1/24/16 – Congratulations to director Jerry Rothwell on How To Change The World‘s nomination for Best Theatrical Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards! – link
6/4/16 – At @welovedocs, Cultivate Cinema Circle alum How to Change the World is the Doc of the Month. Read Influence Film Club interview with dir Jerry Rothwell – link