October 7, 2020 | News | No Comments
If he wanted, filmmaker Avi Lewis thinks he could probably scare you into total paralysis.
“I can make the case to you that we’re fucked,” he says over the phone from New York as he spoke with Common Dreams about his new film, the perils of climate change, the inequities fostered by modern capitalism, and the prospects of humanity’s current efforts to make a course correction away from planetary destruction. “I could say that we should just turn on the TV, take our drug of choice, and just tune it out. I could make that case for you and it would be completely convincing.”
But, he then adds, “What on earth is the point of that?”
With his new documentary film——making its U.S. debut this Friday night at the International Film Center in New York City, Lewis says the goal was not to “shock people into action.” Rather, the film was conceived with the idea that if the story of the climate crisis was told with the proper balance of fact-based concern and a very specific view of hope, it could inspire transcendence of the helplessness that prevents many from taking action.
“It’s the balance of cold-eyed realism which shows us that we’re on a truly catastrophic path and that we’re hurtling in the wrong direction as a global society and the importance of choosing to be hopeful, because people don’t act out of despair,” Lewis says.
Put another way: “Despair breeds paralysis. And hope can lead to action.”
Considering the current political moment—just one year after over 400,000 people gathered in New York City for the historic People’s Climate March and just two months before the much-anticipated COP21 UN climate talks begin in Paris—Lewis says the world remains in a crucial period where understanding of the crisis, and the energetic desire to do something about it, must be matched with a new vision for what the world can be. “If you’re going to embrace hope,” he argues, “it has to be credible hope. It has to be hope that’s actually based on something and it has to be hope that is mitigated by an acknowledgement of how bad things are. And that is the very fine balance that I tried to strike in the film.”
“Ask anyone on Earth if you can have infinite growth on a finite planet and everyone is going to say, ‘Of course not.’ It’s common sense. And yet, our entire global economic system is premised on that crazy idea.”
Citing evidence for this theory of inspiration matched with policy, Lewis cites two individuals who have generated perhaps the most palpable levels of excitement in the U.S. recently: Pope Francis, who just concluded a two-week visit to the Americas, and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose presidential campaign calling for “political revolution” has ignited grassroots passion not seen in decades.
Both the Pope and Sanders, says Lewis, “are talking about inequality and climate change and making the links between the two—and bing!—they’re resonating crazy across society.” Because those issues are the tandem themes of the film, Lewis says it’s thrilling for them to be getting a larger audience. “But it’s also unsurprising,” he says, “because the fact is, people know. Ask anyone on Earth if you can have infinite growth on a finite planet and everyone is going to say, ‘Of course not.’ It’s common sense. And yet, our entire global economic system is premised on that crazy idea.”
What the film does show, he argues, is that people all over the world “are ready for a deeper, much more systemic critique and much more grassroots, radical solutions.”
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It would be too easy to assume that the new 90-minute documentary is simply a film based on the book of the same name authored by Lewis’ wife, Canadian journalist and author Naomi Klein—but that’s not entirely accurate.
Conceived and executed as a parallel project nearly from the get-go, Lewis’ film—which made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month—is just the latest installment of a synchronized and orchestrated endeavor which, though it is narrated by Klein and drew enormous inspiration from her best-selling book, also includes a website and a sophisticated outreach effort (run by a dedicated team of colleagues) which serve to promote and expand the work that has now occupied the last five years of their lives.
“People are ready for a deeper, much more systemic critique and much more grassroots, radical solutions.”
As Lewis explains, “I didn’t have the book to look at, but I was making a movie about a book that hadn’t been written yet.”
Shot over four years on five continents and in nine countries, the film takes a global look at the intertwined crises of corporate greed, neoliberal capitalism, and climate change—but does so by sitting down with and listening to some of the very people who are standing their ground against those forces. Following the New York premiere at the IFC on October 2—which will include a Q&A with both Lewis and Klein—the film will open on the West Coast in Los Angeles on October 16, before a nationwide release—including select theaters, community screenings, and on iTunes—on October 20.
Captured at least in part by the trailer that follows, the film explores the key themes of the book, but does so with a particular emphasis on meeting those individuals and communities from around the world who are confronting—not abstract disparities and economic theories—but actual injustices that have intruded on their lives in the form of polluted water and air, stolen land and traditions, and the systematic erosion of democracy which has been wrested from them by powerful fossil fuel companies and elite interests.
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