The director of That Sugar Film returns with a passionate, upbeat plea for the future of our planet.
May 23, 2019
When An Inconvenient Truth ostensibly turned a PowerPoint presentation into an Oscar-winning film, the world took notice. An impassioned overview about the biggest threat to the earth that humanity is ever likely to face — that is, climate change — will do that. But it also set a precedent for eco-conscious documentaries, stressing the undeniable, existence-shattering doom and gloom of the situation. The reasoning is simple, not to mention completely justified: what else but the worst possible scenario could convince everyone to drastically alter their ways? (As history has shown to the planet's detriment, not even that is proving enough.)
Arriving 13 years later, after a sequel to Al Gore's movie and countless other environmental docos too, 2040 adopts a different approach. This time, it's both personal and positive. Of course, the fate of this giant rock we all live on has always been personal, however director Damon Gameau frames his plea for change as a letter to his now-four-year-old daughter, hypothesising how the state of the environment could potentially improve in the next 21 years for her benefit. It's a smart, savvy move, asking viewers to similarly think about the world they want to leave for loved ones, kids and future generations in general — while offering solutions that, as based on technology available today, could genuinely make an impact. Gameau previously put himself front and centre when he made That Sugar Film, acting as the doco's own Super Size Me-style sucrose-guzzling guinea pig. That movie was not only a record-breaking box-office smash, becoming the highest grossing non-IMAX Australian documentary in history at the time, but also sparked a widespread dietary movement.
Once again venturing around the world to speak to the brightest minds on his chosen subjects in episodic segments, the actor-turned-filmmaker certainly makes a compelling case in 2040. Choosing his examples wisely, each technology he champions basically sells itself. From community-level solar electricity grids in Bangladesh and self-driving cars in Singapore, to marine permaculture off the US coast and innovative agriculture practices in Australia, it's impossible not to see how Gameau's proposed solutions would enact considerable, much-needed change. To make his points crystal clear — and to firmly demonstrate how they could make a difference — he intermittently cuts to an idealised version of the future, complete with actor Eva Lazzaro playing his daughter, to literally show how life in the year 2040 could look.
While these crystal ball moments sometimes overplay their earnestness and attempted humour to the point of becoming clunky, they tie into another of Gameau's key skills as a documentarian: presentation. Global warming is a daily topic of conversation for many, as it should be, and yet a constant stream of news headlines and cries from scientists can be all too easy for both the masses and their elected representatives to ignore. In addition to its unfettered optimism, 2040 packages its segments in engaging ways, whether discussing alternative energy solutions by placing its talking heads atop a towering wind turbine, or using animated dioramas. It's another technique brought over from the similarly bright, breezy, accessible yet informative That Sugar Film, and once again, it works.
Also effective is 2040's overall aim, with the film staring climate change in the face, slapping on a smile and striving to get people motivated about such a crucial matter. The doco provides an upbeat top-level view, as well as an easy-to-glean list of talking points — favouring the bigger picture, plus a few case studies, over the bleak current-day political, social and economic reality. And yet, that's also what leaves a strange sensation. 2040's vision of the future is so welcome, but it's also just that: a vision. Even if you're not innately cynical about the world, there's a difference between knowing what's possible and thinking that it'll actually happen. 2040 trades in hope, which will never fail to be important, however there's still no escaping reality.
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