Documentary: This Changes Everything

by Viandito Pasaribu

Poster for the documentary

Not to be confused with the 2019 documentary on sexism in the film industry of the same name, This Changes Everything is a 2015 film adaptation of the titular book written by Naomi Klein, directed by Avi Lewis with Klein herself starring in the movie and making significant contributions to its production. In the attempt to translate the work onto the big screen, the movie opts for a more streamlined message, where the systemic changes that the book advocates for are presented in less depth in favour of striking visual imagery. The film also wishes to avoid classic climate documentary cliches by focusing closely on its tangible human impacts.

The film looks at a diverse array of communities around the world and the ways in which climate change has adversely affected their day to day lives. News clips, expert interviews, and footage of community residents in their struggles against drastic changes to their environment brought onto them from elsewhere are used. Perhaps the most harrowing story is that of an Indigenous First Nation in Canada whose land is in threat of severe pollution due to the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. The residents have organised against this, yet the operation shows no signs of being deterred. The Canadian government is not shown to be engaging in negotiations with the protestors, allowing drilling to continue unabated. Because of this, the people of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation have begun a lawsuit against the Canadian state, arguing that the oil industry is eroding their rights as a native community.

The film crew also visits a village in Andhra Pradesh, India, where the local government has granted permission for the construction of a coal-fired power plant. The villagers are worried that the resulting pollution would damage their food and water supply, and hold a peaceful protest against the project. However, it took a violent turn and two villagers were killed in clashes with police. A former government official is interviewed and says that the local authority often grants incentives to corporations that seek to provide energy to the area regardless of the project’s environmental impact. Tax breaks, subsidies, and even land is offered to the company with no charge. Despite this, the villagers’ campaign succeeded in halting the project, but with tragic loss of life.

Several other locations are also visited, but not all have the same level of difficulty in combatting climate change in their local communities. The film tells us that 30% of Germany’s energy needs are fulfilled by renewable resources, and that emissions have been significantly reduced since their introduction. While much of Germany still heavily relies on coal, oil, and gas, there has been a sustained and successful effort pushing back against the expansion of these industries and for more democratic control over energy production. Klein and Lewis, however, also point out that developed countries are the most important contributors to climate change and that the model of never-ending growth must be reexamined if the problem is to be tackled with any amount of weight.

Avi Lewis has crafted a compelling documentary with dark and vivid imagery that conveys the gravity of the issue at hand well. It’s focus on this imagery, however, makes it difficult for the film to delve deeply into the solutions necessary to further the radical premise that it leaves its viewers with, exemplified by the question Klein asks them as the film ends: What if climate change is the best opportunity we have to alter the economic and political systems that have led us to it? The film also struggles to subvert the tropes of climate change documentaries as it attempts to reconcile the visual medium with the detail-heavy nature of the book it adapts. It offers a birds-eye view of a variety of issues rather than an effective narrative illustration of climate change’s impacts either on a global or local level that would help the audience develop an emotional attachment to the topic.

This Changes Everything (2015) is a well-made film adaptation of an important and comprehensive work addressing the most pressing issue of the 21st century, and its task is a tough one. But its approach to appealing to a wider audience causes it to have a tenuous grasp on the subject matter of its source and follows similar conventions to the climate documentaries that came before it.

References:

Lewis, A. (Director). 2015. This Changes Everything [Film]. Klein Lewis Productions and Louverture Films.

https://thischangeseverything.org/the-documentary/

Viandito Pasaribu is a final year undergraduate at SOAS in BA Politics & International Relations. He is an Intersections writer as well as a contributor to the SOAS Spirit, an independent student-run newspaper.

Originally published at https://www.journalisj.com on June 9, 2022.

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