This Changes Everything: A Sincere Yet Subtly Biased Documentary


This Changes Everything

Editor’s Note: This Changes Everything opens in limited theatrical release November 4, 2015.

As a documentary, This Changes Everything (Avi Lewis) is first and foremost intended to spread awareness. This is integral to the film’s content, which deals with environmental changes and man’s relation with nature. In its measure to spread awareness, it aims to engender in the viewer a shift in their way of thinking, which supports its thesis that climate issues are not about changing nature but about changing how we think about nature.

Naomi Klein, author of the original work This Changes Everything, a book which inspired the film in theme but not exactly in content, suggests that man’s relationship with nature has shifted in the past few centuries and that we need to correct course. She provocatively narrates the film, describing in detail how scientific discovery has led to an inflated sense of dominance in how man interacts with nature. Through scientific discovery, we have learned that there are ways in which we can control nature. Using chemistry and engineering, we can alter and thus take advantage of nature. It has provided much industrial wealth, but this has come at a cost. Through this time of self-proclaimed dominance over nature, we have inadvertently caused nature to react in unnatural, even violent ways. From oil spills to floods and hurricanes, nature has proven time and again that we are not in control. It is perhaps time that we humbly re-accept nature as a mother rather than our slave, or else we might see a revolt.

Naomi Klein. . .provocatively narrates the film, describing in detail how scientific discovery has led to an inflated sense of dominance in how man interacts with nature.

This Changes EverythingThe film begins with Naomi Klein attending a world famous conference on science, wherein a man disconcertingly suggests that we stop global warming by sending particles into the atmosphere to reflect heat. While his theory seems plausible, the idea of using science to control nature, something we truly don’t know enough about, is rather alarming. Klein subtly but obviously resists this idea of controlling nature, as if humans are gods with the omniscience to know what is best. It seems to her, and thus to the viewer, that such science is self-aggrandizing, immoral, and possibly dangerous. It is evident throughout history that scientific experiments often show dire consequences years after supposed success. Klein ensures that we become aware of this.

Seven events are detailed in This Changes Everything. Beginning and ending with footage in Fort McMurray, Alberta, it uses the oil sands as a symbol of ever-expanding industry and the detriments of such activities. Klein describes how oil mining is a way of controlling nature, of saying that the “Earth is a machine and we are its masters.” A news reel shows President Obama speaking about how America is drilling “everywhere, right now”. This is meant to be a victorious speech. But how is it a victory if we use up all our resources of fossil fuels in a short period of time? It may help us now; it may provide immediate profits. But it is a problem for our future. An animation is used to visually convey this idea. Using a red line, this animation demarcates the allowable consumption of fossil fuels. It posits that the amount currently being consumed crosses this line. Two things will happen as a result: our resources will be tapped and our climate will be altered. But this is okay for most of the people in Fort McMurray. They work in the oil mines, save a tonne of money from their extremely high paying jobs, then leave the city imprinting the soils of their labour behind them.

. . .the cinematic form of the film is mostly incidental and Lewis does little to communicate content through a visual manner.

Lewis and Klein do a good job of showing both sides of all of the conflicts, although it is obvious which side they agree with. After footage in Fort McMurray detailing the lives of people working in the oil sands, it looks at the lives of the native people being affected by the industry. Though perhaps embellishing the amount of profiting of the oil sands and the amount of harm inflicted on the natives, the film draws a striking contrast between each positions way of thinking. The natives see nature as a nourishing mother to be respected, not controlled. Meanwhile, their land is stripped away for oil drilling, and nature is being commanded. The caribou has seen a decline, and the officers have created a bureaucratic maze to protect themselves.

In New York, we see the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. There was much wreckage and many injured. “Nature can hit back!” While not a particularly insightful point, Klein and Lewis are right to present this seemingly commonsensical idea as if revolutionary. People don’t realize the damage of natural catastrophe when removed from it. The footage helps us realize this. As does footage in Montana and India. In the first, fossil fuel development leads to an oil spill which harms the farming environment and the local folk. In the second, a massive protest against coal mining in Sompeta leave two people dead. It is called a “struggle for tomorrow”, and while the protestors win, it speaks to a greater need for a call to arms throughout the world in order to prevent further crime.

Renewable energies, gold mining in Halkidiki, Greece, and smog in China are also featured. In these cases, it is man’s ability to literally take from the earth which is put on display. Wealth is something in the Earth, and with man at the levers and nature as a machine we can use nature our own ends. This creates a difficult debate which pits the governing of a country against the state of nature. In order to drive progress, one must continually fuel the economy, but to what cost is this okay? Due to catastrophic smog in China, this has been countered by increased awareness of renewable energies. Coal consumption has reduced while solar panelling has increased. This is one step towards a brighter future, one which Klein and Lewis compare to German innovations in wind and solar power. It leads to a concluding argument that our resources and manpower ought to be directed along this kind of path. It is through shifting our way of thinking that we might realize a better form of interacting with nature.

This Changes Everything is shot in a rather pleasant manner. Particularly in the beginning, some stunning footage of nature is shown. However, the cinematic form of the film is mostly incidental and Lewis does little to communicate content through a visual manner. Naomi Klein herself is seen occasionally looking off in pensive wonder. This, of course, is staged and superficial. She is posing for the camera, and her presence brings pretence to the supposed documentary images. It is easy to forgive the film for these measures, though, as a film of its nature may often be conceived as boring by viewers. Artificial methods must be used in order to keep viewers interested in truth.

Though sincere, there is certainly some bias to this documentary. While never outright lying to the audience, the film does exaggerate, ever so subtly, to prove its points, the main point being that we need to change the way we think. We are blindly seeking wealth and resources to the extreme; we are inadvertently hurting the planet in our attempts to control it. This Changes Everything invites us to think differently, yet encourages us to think for ourselves. Although it sometimes spoon-feeds, the content is important and sharing Klein’s ideas through documentary has proven to be a successful endeavour.

7.0 GOOD

Sincere and engaging, the environmental documentary This Changes Everything encourages us to think differently about nature. Though the film never outright lies to the audience, it does exaggerate and indulge in occasional bias.

  • 7.0

About Author

Kamran's areas of interest include formalism, realism & reality, affect, and notions of the aesthetic. With experiences as a TA, an event panelist, a presenter at conferences from UofT to Harvard, and a writer of a self-authored film blog, Kamran would like to share with others his profound interest in the profilmic in the hopes of inspiring, in them, a similar love for film.