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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

How to Change the World documentary review: the path to Greenpeace

How to Change the World green light

A warts-and-all history of Greenpeace full of colorful characters and beset by twists and surprises. An inspiring, even exhilarating tribute.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Bob Hunter was a Canadian newspaper columnist in Vancouver who, in 1971, decided that the best way to protest a planned U.S. nuke test in the Aleutian islands was to sail a boat into the blast zone and dare Nixon to blow up the bomb anyway. The rickety boat he and his friends hired — which the U.S. navy couldn’t stop in international waters unless they wanted to commit an act of piracy — was renamed Green Peace… and the modern environmental movement was born. Using an amazing trove of archival film from the organization’s early days, documentarian Jerry Rothwell (Donor Unknown) has assembled a warts-and-all history of Greenpeace, which, for all that it was the first group to combine antiwar efforts with environmentalism in a new high-mindedness that saw humanity and our planet as one symbiotic entity, was still beset by all the usual human foibles and failures of personality clashes and power struggles. They make for an exciting story full of colorful characters and beset by twists and surprises. Yet the tale is still an inspiring, even exhilarating one. Hunter’s background as a journalist informed his new work as an activist, and he understood the power of an image, which is why there is so much film of Greenpeace’s campaigns, such as those that put protesters in small boats between whalers’ harpoons and the animals themselves. Some photos of Greenpeace protests have become iconic and still ring with the power of principled action to change hearts and minds; Hunter may have been among the first to grasp the concept of “going viral,” too, though he called it throwing “mind bombs.” Excerpts from Hunter’s writings — read in voiceover narration by actor Barry Pepper (Hunter died in 2005) — serve as poetic sermons on the necessity of saving the planet, not just for the practical purpose of saving ourselves but the spiritual purpose of enriching our souls by embracing nature in all its wonders. This is a rousing tribute to Greenpeace for helping to open the world’s eyes to the irreplaceable beauty of our home, and a reminder that the work to protect it is not over.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of How to Change the World for its representation of girls and women.


green light 4 stars

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How to Change the World (2015)
US/Can release: Sep 09 2015 (one night only)
UK/Ire release: Sep 09 2015

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, images of bloody real animal slaughter)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Bluejay

    One night only in the US and Canada (and it’s already passed)?! What’s up with that?

  • LaSargenta

    Ditto.

    Btw, from the general scuttlebutt I hear from friends, I’ll bet the WATW score on this is low. Doesn’t negate their mission, just a comment.

  • It was one of those Fathom Events things. It could still get a regular release… and it certainly will if this ends up being nominated for an Oscar, which is a possibility.

  • I just posted its WATW rating. The film almost ignores women.

  • LaSargenta

    So does Greenpeace. Or, at least their big confrontational tactics exclude them quite a bit, even if the women take part.

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