From the ashes of the ‘summer of love’, groups, movements and ideologies start to blend together to form a new type of force for change, one that takes direct action to achieve its goals. This amalgamation of people and ideas leads to a small group of environmentalists and members of the peace movement planning a boat trip from Vancouver to Amchitka, a small island in Alaska, with the intention of stopping the United States of America’s planned detonation of an underground nuclear bomb. This rag-tag action group name their boat ‘The Greenpeace’ (green after the environmental movement and peace after the peace movement). Despite the US coastguard forcing the ship to turn back, the endeavour ignites public interest and the media go wild for ‘The Greenpeace’ crew.
Today, Greenpeace is one of the biggest international lobbyists for action on climate change, nuclear disarmament and the overfishing of whales, but most don’t know how this massive organisation started. How To Change The World chronicles the life of the organisation, from its birth on a beaten up old boat, to its global presence. Greenpeace’s father and reluctant leader, Robert Hunter, is as much the focus of the documentary as Greenpeace itself, and these events are shown through his eyes and narration.
Hunter, a former journalist (a profession he took up again later on in life), knew the power of images and used them as the organisation’s weapon of choice. In the first few years of Greenpeace the marriage of direct action and powerful imagery captured the attention of the US public and media, leading to major victories for the organisation over nuclear weapons testing and whaling.
The documentary consists of talking head interviews with the key figures from the Greenpeace early years, as well as news footage and footage shot by Greenpeace activists on campaigns. The Greenpeace boat crew soon become the higher-ups in what becomes Greenpeace, and it is that same small crew that soon begin to fracture. There is in-house fighting, clashing egos and warring ideologies that continuously threaten to destroy the group from within.
The film doesn’t shy away from Greenpeace’s problems. Instead, it tries to explain the motivation behind each person’s actions. In his tenure as president, Hunter is the perpetual middle man between extreme ends of the Greenpeace family as well as the outside world. Although the film does paint Hunter as a troubled man, it is clear that it wants to construct a mythical figure out of him rather than to fully deconstruct him.
The Greenpeace footage is shot on beautiful 16mm colour film that brings the documentary to life. It is a film that has been forty years in the making and one that is not visually disappointing. The fact that the film has footage from the very first campaign is one of its biggest strengths, and a strength that allows the audience to feel involved in the Greenpeace campaigns. At times, the narrative seems too fanciful for a documentary, perhaps because it is so tragic and painful. The images are so strong and devastating that it would be easier and more comforting to think of them as not being real. Baby Seal blood spilled across a white Arctic canvas, Whale flesh peeled from the body, these are the images that make this documentary important and these are the images that make Greenpeace important.
How To Change The World is available on DVD and Digital Download now.