Sydney Film Festival Review: How To Change The World (Canada & UK, 2015)


It is only in 1970s Canada where an over-abundance of hippies, draft-dodgers, Buddhists, vegans, nudists, musicians, writers and tree-huggers could meet and create an organisation like Greenpeace. The documentary, How To Change The World looks at the origins of this grassroots, activist movement and shows how it became the enduring institution it is today. The film is a fascinating and inspiring look at some idealistic, clever and eloquent people and their hope, successes and failings.

The film is directed by Jerry Rothwell who is no stranger to the documentary genre, having previously made Heavy Load and Donor Unknown. The story is mostly about the larger-than-life, Bob Hunter, a former columnist for the Vancouver Sun-turned-eco warrior. Hunter passed away in 2005 but left behind a treasure trove of excellent diaries which form the basis of this story (and are narrated by Barry Pepper). It chronicles how a modest man became the unlikely, inaugural president of Greenpeace.

The story goes that in 1971 a group of ragtag friends decided to go to Amchitka Island in Alaska to protest Richard Nixon’s nuclear bomb tests. The group’s efforts did not stop this from happening but they succeeded in creating global awareness for this issue and spawning the environmental movement. From here they would expose the inhumane whaling methods by the Soviets (they captured on film a whale being harpooned and dying) and the horrific clubbing of baby seals in Canada.

Hunter and his fellow Greenpeace officers understood the power of visual imagery with the leader even coining the term “Mind bomb” to represent an image that is picked up by the media and that goes “viral”, long before the internet even existed. This film uses excellent editing to cut between the graphic images the group captured back in the day as well as Hunter’s beautiful writing, other archive material and new interviews with those early Greenpeace members. The latter are an eclectic bunch that range from an old hippie who prefers to use the name Walrus (David Garrick) to Patrick Moore, a former environmental activist who is now a climate change denier. There is also Paul Watson, who was an angry man who left Greenpeace to form Sea Shepherd and who chose vastly different methods in his activism (which included ramming ships). The Sea Shepherd has now taken Hunter’s activist daughter, Emily under its wings.

How To Change The World is a vibrant film that marries up many different elements (including a fabulous soundtrack). The story holds nothing back and even goes into the power struggles and lawsuits that ensued when the organisation grew too big. This film makes for one exciting, cautionary tale that celebrates the motley crew of pioneers who helped create the green movement and who made a difference through some unlikely successes. Excellent.


How To Change The World premiered at the Sydney Film Festival.