Earlier this week I waited in our local cinema. It was a little emptier than usual on cheap-night (thanks GoT), and as the first trailer began to roll, polished, futuristic-yet-familiar scenes captivated the audience. A camera panned over cityscapes of lush rooftop gardens before encircling forests of gigantic wind turbines. A voice-over started, and I was a little taken aback to hear the narrator’s Australian accent.
It was Damon Gameau. The film director and actor – you may have seen his acclaimed That Sugar Film; he’s kind of our answer to Morgan Spurlock – just released his latest project. Neither overloading with complex science nor paralysing with fear, 2040 trades in hope.
The film sees Damon embark on a global journey to hear from experts, innovators, change-makers, and schools of kids who, along with his own young daughter, will inherit the world we leave behind.
Damon shared more about his documentary, a vision board for how we can all regenerate the Earth for future generations…
Was there a moment, person or place that inspired you to make this film, and approach our climate emergency in the way you have?
It was probably a discussion with the environmental psychologist Dr. Renee Lertzman. She really helped me to understand some of the neuroscience around how we respond to information that is overwhelming or comes attached with any fear or anxiety – which as we know is pretty much the only narrative we really hear around climate and the future. So she talked about how limiting this can be, in terms of how it activates our brain, shutting down parts where we do think creatively and problem-solve.
That was a huge moment for me to think, ‘Right, maybe there is a way of trying to communicate this circumstance in a more motivating way’.
Your 2014 documentary, ‘The Sugar Film’ tackled healthy eating. Have you long been keen to explore an environmental issue?
I have always been interested in environmental issues but have struggled with how to connect with them because they are so dire and negative.
I guess having a daughter really made me think about the power of imagery. I think we are often guided by images in society and the ones that concern our future are almost entirely catastrophic and that even extends to films. Hollywood films often show a future that is really uninhabitable, in some cases there is very little nature and we are all living in really desolate environments. I just thought it was important to have an intervention and throw up some alternatives and say, ‘You know what, it doesn’t have to be like that. There are opportunities to create a really vibrant and rich future, with a lot more nature being incorporated into our cities and our surrounds’. It’s kind of who we are as people, it’s how we have evolved. In fact, there is terrific research showing the healing aspect of being in nature and doctors in Scotland are even prescribing it to their patients!
What can people expect from the film?
We’ve done 45 Q&As around the country and found that people feel an overwhelming sense of hope again and relief. I have been getting lots of hugs after the screenings because, I think, people are feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the state of the planet, and rightly so – you know we do need to allow ourselves to feel that emotion and how upsetting it can be sometimes.
But people need to also see that there are others who care deeply about this issue and that there are solutions that exist. We actually have everything we need right now to deal with all these problems. We just need to motivate people to get involved. I think we are more prone to be motivated when we are given a goal to strive for, one of a more hopeful future. That’s sort of how we are wired.
I’ve called the film ‘fact-based dreaming’ before; it is a vision of the future, but there is nothing that is made up. Everything I show my daughter exists now, it’s just an extrapolation of that into the future. There might be another tonne of solutions that pop up, there will be in the next 20 years, but what we have right now should be really encouraging to people.
Yes, it is a hopeful vision, and it portrays a much different future, but only based on what we already have. I think is an important way to ground the film so it doesn’t feel too utopian or fanciful. I’m not making anything up.
Presenting the future is a huge undertaking. What’s been most challenging for you and your team?
[laughs] Probably trying to decide what to leave out; there were so many innovations and solutions that we discovered! How do you condense that into a story that is both entertaining and informative in 90 minutes? You can overload people with wall-to-wall facts, but it’s about getting that balance between the head: the information, but also the heart: the storytelling and emotional journey. How do we connect people to this issue – whether it’s their children’s future, the food we’re eating, or the air we are breathing?
And also there is just an infinite number of future outcomes, possibilities, or opinions. So ultimately I kept coming back to my vision and was guided by all of the children we consulted – more than 100 from all around the world. Just distilling all the information and their answers was probably the biggest challenge.
It must have also been technologically difficult to portray your vision visually?
We had a brilliant designer, Luke Bubb and he and I worked really closely; we had some fantastic late-night chats about certain visions of the future and what that might look like.
Then there was our visual effects team, Cumulus VFX. An Australian company, their office is run entirely on renewables, so all the visual effects in the film were made by the energy of the sun!
There were about 20 VFX specialists, most under the age of 25. To see them come in every day to contribute to what their future might look like, what their dreams are, was a really wonderful exercise and very collaborative process.
Which side of the road driverless cars will pull over on? Where would the door be? What kind of trees would you have in the rooftop garden in a certain city, and what foods could grow there best? All those little questions were really fun to explore.
Looking back over the more than three years you’ve been working on this film/project/movement (!), what stands out to you the most?
So far, it’s been the response we’re getting from kids. They’ve been asking the best questions at the screening Q&As – I’ve done a school visit in every town and city we’ve been to, and to see how engaged they are with this topic and how passionate they are… The language they use, how articulate and eloquent their questions are, they really know what’s going on better than most adults!
That gives me enormous hope, they really are on a mission these kids. We’ve just got to make sure we nurture them, really support that passion, and do whatever we can to get involved and help make it happen.
You’ve just wrapped up an Australian tour of the film and ON Thursday it was released across the country. Did you consider the Federal Election in your timeline?
Yes, we talked a lot about when to release the film, whether before or after would be best, with a range of different groups.
We felt that no matter the outcome of the election, no party was going to come in and wave a magic wand and make this all happen. It’s still going to take an enormous effort from the grassroots, the passionate people that are trying to make a change. This is how it has happened historically, we’ve taught the leaders how to lead on these types of issues – whether that’s been the abolition of slavery, the suffragettes getting women the vote, decriminalising inter-racial marriage… These things have only come about because of small groups of passionate individuals who kept making their voices heard until, eventually, the system changed.
I think the election result, for the people that really care about the environment and climate issues, is a galvanising moment to say, ‘Look, we’ve actually got to work even harder, come together even more to collaborate where we might have operated differently and independently, and make our voice even louder’.
What comes next?
When we first began, we did eight months of research where I spoke to more than 50 different scientists, academics and economists from around the world to get an idea of what we could do, what the psychology was, and what solutions existed. And Dr. Renee Lertzman really changed and motivated me to tell a solutions-focused story. She is really big on saying, ‘You know, we need to all own this problem we are in and make sure people are emotional about it and are able to convey their feelings and not deny what is going on. But at the same time we need to also restore that other part of the balance which is to say there are other things that we can do and let’s start motivating people with goals of what we can achieve’.
We have a website: Whatsyour2040.com where you can go on and create your own climate plan. You fill out some questions about what your interest are, what kind of person you are and it will give you several things that you can get on with right now on your own, in your community, or at school. We’ve teamed up with more the 50 international organisations and there are options from helping to launch the first seaweed platform of the coast of Tasmania, helping farmers by paying them to put carbon back in the soil, or mentoring online if that’s what you want to do. For teachers, there are 35 free lesson plans for grade five-to-10. So there are a number of opportunities to really step up and join the regeneration effort.
This weekend, May 25th and 26th, at Palace Cinemas across Australia, school-aged children attending with an adult (1:1) can get gain free-entry to watch 2040.