Naomi Klein's attempt to redefine the climate change debate only frames it in a childish and overly simplistic way.
This Changes Everything
2015, if nothing else, will be remembered as the year of the climate change film. Documentaries and narrative features have long been interested in the subject, but never before has there been such a proliferation (the trend, of course, fits neatly in with the zeitgeist of the moment). And while many of these films have been enlightening, engaging affairs, the sheer quantity assures that not all of them can reach the same water mark. Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is an example of the latter.
Based upon the international bestseller of the same name by Klein, This Changes Everything is a globe hopping, gorgeously rendered call to action docu-essay. The film opens with the unimaginable deformity that is the Alberta tar sands, the world’s largest oil grab to date, the sort of environmental nightmare that’s worthy of an entire movie, rather than just the segment in this doc. There we meet indigenous locals who reside down river and have been suffering from the inevitable spills and leaks. Heartbreakingly, all they want is to simply be allowed to go onto their own lands to asses the extent of the damage, but time and again their access is refused.
Before much is resolved or truly even textured on the Alberta front, This Changes Everything takes us south to Montana where a young couple in the Powder River Basin are attempting to hold onto their goat farm, battling the encroach of oil fields and pipelines, only to have a spill decimate a portion of their land. Also in Montana are members of the Northern Cheyenne tribe who are attempting to rely entirely on renewable energy.
But again the film jumps, first to Greece where a small community is in a fierce and complicated battle with Canadian mining and drilling companies attempting to exploit the economic crisis. Then it jumps to Andhra Pradesh, where villagers are fighting off a proposed coal-fired power plant that will destroy their wetlands.
Each of these massive, engrossing issues are truncated and packed together with an unwieldy and almost disparate narration by Klein that attempts to reimagine the world’s climate crisis as one of “story.” So, while many films are hacking away at the problem, finding smaller stories as a way in, it is intriguing to see an attempt to completely reimagine the root of the issue (without disregarding scientific fact, of course). The idea is alluring at first, but it falls apart almost instantly and becomes an almost childishly simplistic look at a massive global issue. It offers nothing new to the conversation at all, except to say that perhaps climate change is a good thing because it will make us do something radical. Or something like that.
To say the film around the narration is great might be a bit of an overstatement. Lewis doesn’t seem to have much of an eye for tension in the present (though much of the archive footage is impressive). But, somewhere, beneath the painful and obvious narration that never once adds to anything, is a decent film that seeks to highlight the David and Goliath battles that individuals and communities are waging around the world corporations and governments. Klein’s narration muddles almost everything, though. At best she offers up confusing tidbits about narrative and story, and at worst she makes climate change about herself and everything she (wealthy, white) has learned about the human spirit while galavanting through several impoverished nations.
If nothing else, the film is superbly gorgeous. Lensed by Mark O Fearghail, every location is richly textured and vibrantly alive. And the music by David Wall and Adam White is lush, lending an emotional hand to the film when it fails to mine any of the ripe moments it sets up.
This Changes Everything is by no means an unwatchable film. It’s another necessary endeavor, and another attempt to turn an impossible problem into a manageable issue. And despite its flaws it ends on a beautiful note, with a montage of the many courageous marches and rallies all over the world that urge those in power to finally act on climate change.