The closing night film at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri last week was “How to Change the World,” a documentary about the early days of Greenpeace. Both director Jerry Rothwell and editor Jim Scott appeared for a Q&A after the film.
The documentary is filled with never-before-seen footage of Greenpeace’s early activities, including their first voyage to try to stop a Russian whaling ship. Some of this footage is gruesome and bloody, as the whalers are seen harpooning even a baby whale.
Greenpeace was founded in 1969 by Canadian environmentalist Bob Hunter. In the beginning, it was just a group of activists, and they really had no intention of becoming the huge organization Greenpeace is today. Also early on, differences of opinion caused a considerable amount of difficulty within the group. We learn about these personality and ideological conflicts through both archival footage and recent interviews with some of the key players.
Hunter passed away in 2005, but his daughter is interviewed in the film and is now an employee of Greenpeace.
During the Q&A, Jerry talked about his original vision for the documentary. “I was looking for the story of a group that tries to work collectively and has this kind of vision, which actually it accomplishes very quickly. It’s like a band that very quickly has huge success and then, it has to deal with that. I think Bob Hunter was an amazing leader in that situation…. One of the things that really fascinated me right from the start is how does an organization in its infancy contain both Paul Watson and Patrick Moore [key members of the original Greenpeace group who still fundamentally disagree about how to create environmental change]. How does that work? And I think it worked because of Bob Hunter.”
Jerry said he didn’t want the film to advocate for one side or the other. He seems to believe that there’s room for all approaches. “For me, films are an exploration, and they will take you on a journey. I wanted to maybe flip between the different views…. There’s no simple answer,” he said. “Just bearing witness is not enough. The whaling moratorium only really came about through seven or eight years of lobbying, getting individual countries to vote against whaling. And that’s different from … putting themselves in front of a harpoon.”
Voiceover for Bob Hunter was provided by actor Barry Pepper who sounded much like Hunter as he read the words taken from Hunter’s notebooks. “I was really drawn to Barry Pepper just because he sounded a lot like Bob to me,” Jim said. “And I had watched an interview, and he had long hair and a beard and looked like Bob.”
When Jerry and Jim were asked how they knew what they were looking for as they combed through the archival film, Jim said, “It was really difficult at times because there was so much facial hair, as Jerry noted early on, that it took a while to really get used to who was who.” He was referring to the styles of the era.
Jim also recommended Bob Hunter’s books: “He is Canada’s environmental Hunter S. Thompson, in my opinion,” he said.
The film will open in Vancouver soon where Greenpeace began. “We’re taking it home,” Jerry said. “If a fight doesn’t break out on stage, I’ll feel like it’s been a success.”