What do you know about Greenpeace?
Apart from the odd leaflet through the letterbox or a random encounter with a chugger, chances are not a lot. How to Change the World takes us behind the scenes of the environmental organization, which began in 1971 amidst a flurry of idealism aboard a run-down Canadian fishing tug, and, through decades of egotism, infighting, and litigation, went on to become a global entity with thousands of employees and a bankroll of millions.
Jerry Rothwell’s new documentary is comprised from reams of 16mm archival footage, present-day interviews, black-and-white photographs, and the occasional segue through ink-and-oil animation (including a brief jaunt into the belly of a whale), held together by Barry Pepper’s narration, reading excerpts from the diary of Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter. Hunter.
Along with the anti-establishment Paul Watson and future “eco Judas” Pat Moore, Pepper’s narration guides us from the earliest days, voyaging out to Amchitka to oppose a government nuclear test, witnessing the remains of a whaling “genocide” on Akutan Island, and essentially creating conservationism as we know it out of a ragtag band of tree huggers, peaceniks, radical unionists, and other assorted hippies.
From unseasoned activists using zodiacs to take on the Russian fleet, a slaughterhouse on water trailing blood and viscera in their wake, to the fevered support of bombshell Brigitte Bardot, How to Change the World documents how Greenpeace detonated, in their own words, a “mind bomb” in the public consciousness – in essence, going viral – holding space with civil rights and the Vietnam War.
Hunter is portrayed as the pragmatic, increasingly haunted public face who secretly rues that “the revolution can go no faster or further than people”; Watson as the rebel, eventually booted out for being too uncompromising; Moore, mostly side-lined, becoming disillusioned with his failure to centralise control around the Vancouver hub.
More novelistic than cinematic – the film is split into chapters or “rules” – How to Change the World ultimately shows how a small group of individuals, by way of casual drugs use and CIA co-option, ultimately did just that. The film testified nobly to their efforts and if the focus is more on the organization’s origins than its present – what has Greenpeace been up to lately? — who knows, it might just prompt you to read the leaflet and maybe play a small part in their future.