How To Change the World: Lessons from Greenpeace

September 15, 2015

By Antonia Roupell

The screening on Monday 14 September at the Frontline Club lived up to its bold name. How to Change The World, directed by Jerry Rothwell, journeys to the beginnings of the environmental movement and organisation, Greenpeace. As heartwarming as it is harrowing, the film is an homage to non-violent activism. From the bomb tests of Amchitka to whale and seal poaching in Alaska, How To Change The World chronicles the journey of a small group of friends in Vancouver who attempted to do just that. The film’s executive producer Stewart Le Marechal joined the Frontline Club audience for a discussion following the screening.

how to change the world pic

Stewart Le Marechal

Comprised mainly of archive footage from the 1970s, the documentary also includes present day interviews with the eclectic founding members of Greenpeace. These two elements are bound together by the writings of Bob Hunter – former journalist and reluctant leader of the group – which provide narration throughout.

Le Marechal spoke of the scale of their project over the eight years it took to develop: “In the archive in Amsterdam there were 15,000 cans of film and 50 hours of audio. What was kind of amazing was that a lot of this stuff has not been looked at for 40 years.”

The film chronicles the group of environmental activists as they venture boldly into the unknown, more often than not on a boat. Their lack of practical experience is made up for by no shortage of enthusiasm and an abundance of quirky humour – a clear advantage when it came to the essential appeal of their campaigns.

Although the film contains much humour, it does not shy away from including the power struggles that threatened to dissolve the movement. Hunter and his team are depicted both as vulnerable heroes exposed to  harrowing situations and as victims of their own sensitive group dynamic.

As the story developed, the depth of the rift between members became abundantly clear. Perhaps the biggest dilemma of all was whether or not to unite the Greenpeace groups that had sprouted up independently. Was simply bearing witness to the crimes they saw enough? For some yes, but for others it was only the motivation to go much, much further. For Paul Watson in particular, who describes himself as the “most extreme” of the group, this was certainly the case. He clashed with Patrick Moore, who would later come to denounce much of Greenpeace’s work.

When asked how the filmmakers managed to engage all the protagonists to participate in the interviews, Le Marechal said: “Even though they are at different ends of the spectrum, they all have a genuine love for Bob and wanting to honour him through this documentary.”

He emphasised their role as documentary filmmakers rather than dramatists, and commented that it was important “to represent all their voices so they could get a fair hearing.”

Le Marechal explained how impressed he was by the many interviews conducted: “These people that had done these crazy things 40 years ago, seeing how they felt about it now and how they see what they did.”

The Greenpeace movement coincided with the beginnings of electric communication, and Bob Hunter was immediately very perceptive of its power. He thus revolved his brand of activism around capturing a premeditated shot; with this he created “mind bombs.”

An audience member asked Le Marechal: “Do you or any of the other filmmakers have any goals or hopes that this will spark another resurgence of action?”

He responded that they primarily wanted to bring this story to life but, “Heck, if it inspires someone then that’s fantastic.”

The film ends with a look to the next generation of ecological activists inspired by Greenpeace, notably Hunter’s daughter who lovingly continues her father’s work.

Click here for more information about How to Change the World and upcoming screenings.