Climate change can be an overwhelming topic, and sometimes it seems there is no clear solution. What would you recommend people do to get involved in environmental justice and activism?
Everywhere I go and speak people in the audience want me to answer this question. All the global issues are intense and complex, so the answer to this question cannot be well packaged. Climate change solutions cannot be perceived as a hobby, where someone works on Wednesday or Saturday from 6 pm to 8 pm. The solution truly has to be sought individually. This toxicity is not only a problem coming from corporations, but we all carry the causes of oppression and destruction of the environment within ourselves. We are the product of our society. We are conditioned by the system in which we live. If we want to start making a difference, we have to stop asking this question. It is a commitment 24 hours a day. We need to recognize that we are benefiting from the system that destroys the planet, and we have those privileges that make us feel comfortable doing so in our day-to-day life. That is why we need to deconstruct our way of life and our way of thinking.
When people ask me what is the solution, it is important to understand that there is no unique solution. One of the key issues stemmed from the patriarchy that created this vertical society where we look at life through one lens. We have to stop thinking that the solution is going to be simple. What we can do is get out and look around ourselves and where we live. Start asking yourself questions like what are the systems of oppression where I live? Who are the people most impacted by modern society? How can I get involved? We have to stop thinking we have the solutions and start listening deeply to those around us dealing with the impacts that we are causing. These voices will help us become aware of the toxicity that we carry within ourselves. If we do not address the problem we have within, we won't make a difference.
What were some of the challenges of being a first-time filmmaker, and how did you overcome them?
Before this film, we had never touched a cinema camera before. In terms of the artistic approach and political statement, one of the challenges was to create a film without a voice-over. We did not want to have another white man speak on behalf of impacted indigenous women. We did not want to be "mansplaining" the issues to the audience. Instead, we wanted the complexities of climate injustice expressed and conveyed directly from the voices of the protagonists and impacted women. That was a challenge because we are dealing with issues from Canada, Houston, Peru, Ecuador, etc. The film speaks about very complex problems: climate change, decolonization, and racial injustice. We wanted to make it simple, accessible, reachable, and understandable to people who have no idea of what it is all about. Without using a voice-over, it was technically exhausting. In the end, I think we managed.
In terms of producing the film, the other main challenge was that we wanted to remain 100% independent. What was at first an issue became our main asset. In the very early stages of the film, we began building partnerships with grassroots organizations, environmental organizations, and communities. This is very helpful now because we partner with those same groups and other groups to self-distribute our film. It gave us the tools to self-produce our film and to use the film as an organizing tool.
This idea was not to produce another film. The idea was to make a change in the world and to make a difference. Film and images are compelling, so we were able to use images to touch the heart of people and to create empathy within the audience. This strategic approach helped us from the very beginning, and we understood that our work could be used as an organizing tool. We also understand that we need to not only engage our partners but also create an audience around the film. We made people, our protagonists, and partners know that this is a collective project. We led two funding campaigns and met donors along the way. Even once the filming is over, we are still engaging hundreds of communities and groups and using our film as an organizing tool. The film is not the goal but is a way to trigger debate, bring different organizers and groups together to create a call to action. Each online event is a way to make funds for specific communities. Our goal this year is to raise $150,000 for impacted communities. The whole process had led us to what we are doing now. Is it a challenge to remain independent, but it is rewarding at the end of the day.
How do you raise $150,000?
Let's rewind a little bit. In February, we had raised funds for an impact campaign. Sophie, the co-director, my wife, and I were supposed to pack the two kids in our suitcases and fly to the U.S. and Canada to organize and run a campaign for the film. This would have involved tradings, debates, fundraisers, and travel from March to October. We even rented a big camper for the road, then COVID-19 hit.
Everything was canceled. All the screenings and organizations were canceled, which was pretty challenging. But we quickly understood that it was an opportunity to go online and broaden our work scope. There was a potential for many more people to watch the film. However, we also learned pretty quickly that everyone else would do the same, and everyone would be zoomed out. The idea was to translate our campaign from real life into the online dimension but being wise while doing so.
This film, panel discussions, and online impact campaign would be geared towards call-to-actions. While we wouldn't be the ones organizing the events, we would package an online event. Then, we would propose these to groups, communities, and grassroots organizations. They can use our film as an organizing tool.
At first, we didn't know if this would work, and we didn't have much money left because of all the cancellations. I was on my own for the first impact series in June. Within two weeks, we organized about 13 online events, and it was a success. It was amazing; so many groups jumped on board-- the Sierra club, Extinction Rebellion, Amazon Watch, and others--- we managed to raise $30,000 for impacted communities. One hundred fifty thousand people watched our panel discussions, and 6,000 people watched our film. It was wonderful!
I almost burned out. Since I live in Germany, I had to work at night because of the time difference. When this was over, I learned it was not enough to rest, and I needed to start again for the next impact series. This was also an opportunity to use some of the funds raised and earned to build a team of organizers that could expand the film's impact.
We do have an impact agency: Picture in Motion. I hired two people to work full time plus myself on this project. We are in the process of our entire impact series (winter and hopefully spring series). We already have 17 online events planned and more on the way. To give you an idea of what that entails, this organization partners host the online event while we handle everything, but they reach out to their members, so they do the outreach work. There is first the screening of the film and then a panel discussion. Every event is an opportunity to fundraise for a specific goal. The panel discussions trigger the debate and help to formulate a call to action. There are usually two protagonists taking part, one or two people hosting, and someone from the community we are raising funds for. The online panels are not just for discussing topics and concepts but rather for building movements and encouraging alliances and bringing forth a call to action for more privileged audiences to donate to frontline communities. Our partners are delighted to use these events as their organizing tools, and privileged audiences are very happy to donate because it's a unique way to understand fundraising and media work.
Three-quarters of my time is focused on that, and one quarter is focused on the next project. On the side, I am building another team of people who organize fundraising and build the framework of a global media platform. The goal is to raise between 1-3 million bucks by next September and hire more than ten organizers/professional storytellers. This platform is a way to use storytelling to support community-based initiatives to make a difference in a sustainable project. It can be about energy, agriculture injustice, police violence, social/environmental justice. It's about creating a tool at the disposal of impacted communities for them to communicate their stories in a powerful way about how they are affected by a specific issue and about the possible solutions to implement. This tool's primary goal is to build communication bridges between the active communities, so their movement can grow. It is a bottom-up movement. It focuses on the impacted communities by giving them the storytelling tools to better report and communicate the solutions to implement. It is a tool at the disposal of privileged people to support and fundraise for the communities of their choice. We want to hire fundraising professionals to help communities. It's for communication campaigns to build alliances and support for them to fundraise for their work. We want to have organizers on the field through an online platform, but it is also a real-life tool. Organizers would be in charge of finding active communities with initiatives. We would like to have a few organizers in America and a few in South America, Europe, Africa, etc., so that is my plan.
Most of my work is organizing the events for the Summer impact project campaign called No More Sacrificed Communities. We use the film as an organizing tool to fundraise for frontline communities. On the side, I am working on building this global platform with another team of fundraisers, media makers, organizers, and graphic designers. We have to put together a compelling visual.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The whole film is really about our privileges. When you ask about the solution, there is absolutely no solution. It is a cultural shift that we need to make. In my previous interview, you will see why we made the film about indigenous leadership because most privileged white people think that the solution will come from science. While this is rational thinking, "We just have to wait, and the solution will be here." In reality, it is a culturally more profound shift that we need to upright. Culture can change and shift quickly. We need to be asking the tough question. Looking at our privileges is the right question. When people ask these solution questions, I'd like to ask a different question: how far are you willing to go to give up on your privileges?
We could have made money on this film, had a salary, and moved on to the next project, but I want to use my privileges the right way. Meaning, I would like to give back and give money to those living the impact of my lifestyle. If we are not willing to understand that our bank accounts are not our money, this money comes from unfair repartition of privilege or unfairness in life chances and success. Privileged people love to attribute their success to their own merit, which is absolute nonsense. People need to go beyond this question of what they can do. This film was a step in this direction.
What is the solution? Indigenous Peoples say give me back my land. The rest of us say that is not realistic. Why is it not realistic? We want to change the system without giving up the advantages that come with this destructive system. Well, that is not going to work.
It is challenging to change the institutions. Their nature and structure are built on protecting the system that is causing the problems. It is possible to change them but slowly. The climate crisis has revealed one thing; we don't have much time. Things have accelerated very dramatically and exponentially. That is another reason why this film was made. The solutions we need at the global level are already being implemented on those impacted communities, not only locally, but also build alliances worldwide to translucent borders and mental limitations. I don't know if it will be easy for policymakers to implement national or governmental policies that consider the grassroots and community levels, but there are no other options. There cannot be other options. The policies that come from the privileged people don't consider the people who are most impacted. What the communities are doing is fantastic, they are not represented at the governmental level or on tv, but they are implementing outstanding solutions. They are not waiting for the government to tell them they can do it; they are just doing it. They are also building networks so similar communities can follow in their footsteps. It is a global movement that concerns millions of people worldwide. Two million organizations are focused on social-environmental justice. The policymakers on the high level have no interest whatsoever in taking into account these groups. They want to keep the status quo and social structure the way it is.