The 2019 documentary 2040 takes a small-scale situation (the lives of writer/director Damon Gameau’s immediate family) and pairs it with a big idea (climate change) to create a unique blend of pedagogy and personalisation. The film starts and ends with present-day scenes of Gameau with his wife, Zoë, and their young daughter, Velvet, planting trees. Gameau frames the film around the concept of approaching the future through his daughter’s eyes: he wants to explore what life will be like for her in adulthood. Acknowledging today’s often gloomy, dystopian visions of the future, especially from an environmental perspective, he comments that we are ‘renting the Earth from our children’ and admits that he feels he owes it to Velvet to explore more sustainable possibilities. 2040’s tagline – ‘Join the Regeneration’ – is a clever play on words, with ‘regeneration’ referring both to environmental reparation and to his daughter’s emerging generation as facilitators of change.
2040 introduces the effects of climate change through a unique framing device: Gameau taking us into his family home. This is also where the film’s unique visual style first comes into play. Special effects are employed as Gameau walks us through the effects of climate change with reference to the everyday objects in his home: water pours from his freezer as he describes the planet’s ice caps melting; toy cars begin moving with stop-motion animation, illustrating congestion and pollution; miniature coal workers appear in the fireplace. In doing so, he invites us to look at our own homes, using familiar settings to create a personal connection to a big, global issue. However, he quickly takes us out through his front door and around the world, searching for the solutions that may help reverse humanity’s devastating impact on the environment; such ideas or technologies, Gameau believes, must already be in existence.
The film focuses on five areas of concern, giving each roughly equal time: energy, economics, agriculture, oceans and the empowerment of girls. Each segment presents a key idea accompanied by interviews with those involved in or affected by the relevant concern as well as a range of scientists and other thinkers. In keeping with the style of its opening segment, 2040 employs novel devices for these talking heads, with miniaturised interviewees sitting in Monopoly cars, on toasters and tree branches, or on top of wind turbines or roofs. Each segment ends with a flashforward to 2040, depicting how the world would look with the discussed approaches and technologies implemented, and featuring an adult Velvet (played by Eva Lazzaro) as well as older counterparts of her parents (‘aged up’ with make-up). The scenes are beautifully realised, even incorporating references to other technologies that may be commonplace in the future, such as peel-off touch screens and flying mobiles for taking selfies.
Gameau himself is an engaging narrator-host, leading viewers carefully through often content-dense segments and employing what one reviewer has called a ‘self-deprecating and endearingly “dad joke” sense of humour’Cain Noble-Davies, ‘2040’, FilmInk, <https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/2040/>, accessed 15 May 2019. that gives him the likeable persona of a curious everyman. In the film, Gameau also describes his journey as an exercise in ‘fact-based dreaming’ – and, while there is certainly a dreamlike quality to some of the 2040-set sequences, his almost blindingly sunny optimism pervading the film is infectious. It’s impossible not to be moved by the possibilities he presents.
2040’s proposed solutions are no doubt inspiring and thought-provoking, but it’s not made clear in the film just how Gameau believes they could be practically realised – particularly as they will inevitably require significant government or corporate support to get off the ground on a mass scale. As The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Dalton points out, the film ‘underplays the huge shifts required in the current political and economic landscape, and arguably in the entire capitalist system’, and thus ‘falls back on vague hopes that “new leaders emerge” to overhaul the current status quo’.Stephen Dalton, ‘2040: Film Review | Berlin 2019’, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 February 2019, <https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/2040-review-1187090>, accessed 15 May 2019. These challenges can’t be underestimated; as The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker has asserted:
Nothing in today’s headlines compares to the catastrophic potential posed by climate change and the decimating effects of careless consumerism […] big companies have to sign on, and governments have to create incentives and policies to advance sweeping change. Needless to say, this won’t be easy.Kathleen Parker, ‘Nothing in Today’s Headlines Compares to the Coming Catastrophe’, The Washington Post, 7 May 2019, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-end-of-the-everything-may-be-what-weve-been-needing/2019/05/07/902027ac-7101-11e9-9f06-5fc2ee80027a_story.html>, accessed 15 May 2019.
For his part, Gameau has addressed the responsibility of governments, albeit in later discussions about (rather than in) the film. During a Q&A held after an advance screening, he agreed that policymakers have an important role to play, citing the actions of the UK, New Zealand and Iceland on climate change as examples, but conceding that he has ‘less faith’ in Australia’s incumbent government – especially with a federal election looming at the time.Damon Gameau, 2040 post-screening Q&A, Palace Cinemas, Brisbane, 6 May 2019. Greenpeace’s David Ritter, who joined Gameau at the panel, took up the mantle and argued that we need to believe in the power of shared action, using our vote to ‘redirect government’ and becoming involved in environmentalist action as much as we can; he then added that, above all, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as individuals.David Ritter, 2040 post-screening Q&A, ibid.
This notion of communal solutions harks back to a segment in the film documenting the installation of an environmental dashboard showing energy use and other live data in a small US town. Not only did the dashboard prove to be a valuable educational tool for the locals, but it also created a sense of collective empowerment – particularly with residents starting to use the pronoun ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ when interpreting the presented data. Gameau’s vision for 2040 includes dashboards of this type throughout the world’s cities, encouraging community ownership of both environmental impacts and positive steps taken to alleviate them.
With regard to corporate involvement, 2040 briefly addresses the misinformation about climate change – once peddled by entities such as ExxonSee Suzanne Goldenberg, ‘Exxon Knew of Climate Change in 1981, Email Says – but It Funded Deniers for 27 More Years’, The Guardian, 9 July 2015, <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/08/exxon-climate-change-1981-climate-denier-funding>, accessed 21 May 2019. – that is rife on the internet and insidiously propagated by algorithms and bots to disguise its true sources. In the film, Gameau states that companies with a vested interest in climate-change denial use methods similar to those employed by the tobacco industry decades earlier to deny scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking. The wealth of information at our fingertips brings with it confusion, and makes it hard for the public to know what or whom to trust. At the Q&A, Gameau recounted that there was an ‘active campaign from certain players to discredit [the project]’, which led to an eight-month-long research period to ensure the film was backed by trusted bodies such as Project Drawdown and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Additionally, whereas, in the film, he urges us to look beyond the dominant media discourse about climate change, at the panel, he addressed the need to ‘clean up social media’ as a way to ‘clean up democracy’.Gameau, 2040 post-screening Q&A, op. cit. Ritter echoed this sentiment, suggesting that we are locked in a ‘contest of power and information [with those who] deliberately, wilfully and in a well-funded way stand in the way’ of positive change.Ritter, op. cit.
With such expansive material and myriad causes to choose from, 2040 just could not address everything; in fact, following the documentary’s Berlin Film Festival world premiere, it was suggested that the film’s episodic style and wide-ranging scope may have been better suited to a television series rather than a feature film.See Luke Buckmaster, ‘2040 Review – an Idealist’s Vision of a Healthy Earth’, The Guardian, 4 April 2019, <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/apr/04/2040-review-an-idealists-vision-of-a-healthy-earth>, accessed 15 May 2019. But Gameau has revealed that he intends to release the dozen or so stories cut from the film in other formats – a fifteen-part series has already been agreed to, and other segments will be made available on the film’s website.Gameau, 2040 post-screening Q&A, ibid. A companion book, 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration, Damon Gameau, 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2019. has also been published, thereby enabling supplementary content to be explored and allowing any deeper insights that could not be accommodated in the film to be covered.
Gameau has highlighted the effectiveness of the feature-film format’s ‘shared experience’ factor (which, coincidentally, aligns with the community-action themes explored by 2040): ‘I want people to come out, watch it together. Let’s have a debate. What can you do in your community?’Damon Gameau, quoted in James Mottram, ‘Damon Gameau: That 2040 Film’, FilmInk, 3 April 2019, <https://www.filmink.com.au/damon-gameau-2040-film/>, accessed 15 May 2019. There is certainly a sense that Gameau sees the film as only the beginning of the larger 2040 project, with the former’s bite-size approach perhaps lending itself more to inspiring audiences to take action. And Gameau and his team have ensured that viewers are given a strong impetus to go beyond the documentary, undertake further research and adopt sustainable lifestyle measures. 2040’s official website invites users to create an ‘action plan’ based on the five key themes explored in the film.See <https://whatsyour2040.com/activate-your-plan/>, accessed 15 May 2019. 2040 is also being marketed as an educational resource: special screenings were held for teachers prior to 2040’s theatrical release, students were invited to join post-screening discussions around the country, and the filmmakers have teamed up with education organisation Cool Australia to produce free 2040-related teaching resources. Following the completion of its Australian theatrical run, distributor Madman has even offered to organise private, school and community screenings.‘Frequently Asked Questions’, ‘2040’, Madman Films website, <https://madmanfilms.com.au/2040film/2040-faqs/>, accessed 15 May 2019.
As with any good tool for advocacy or education, the text itself is just a springboard for exploring further themes, issues and approaches. This emphasis on grassroots learning – which links back to Gameau’s visits to schools in half a dozen countries and interviews with primary school–aged children about their visions for the future, as seen in the film – puts 2040 in front of the key audience who will, hopefully, become part of the ‘Regeneration’. In fact, the framing of the action around Velvet’s coming of age may be viewed as the film’s key message: we can’t just hope that ‘new leaders’ will emerge; instead, we must nourish and nurture them to become those leaders. This also provides clues to understanding the seemingly disparate theme of the empowerment of girls – rather than being ‘only marginally related’, as Dalton puts it,Dalton, op. cit. this issue is about ensuring equal access to leadership roles. Gameau admits in 2040 that he was ‘caught off guard’ by the notion that changing the way we educate and support women, who take on household and childrearing responsibilities in many cultures, is a cornerstone of a sustainable future. Like many of us in the developed world, he takes the fact that his daughter will be able to complete her schooling and have access to safe reproductive healthcare for granted. But the reality that 130 million girls around the world will not receive an educationSee ‘Girls’ Education’, The World Bank, 25 September 2017, <https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/girlseducation>, accessed 15 May 2019. is a sobering thought, and one that reinforces the need to reverse this trend to ensure that it is not just young women – and men – from privileged backgrounds who can ascend to such positions of prominence.
Equipped with new knowledge and skills, our younger people will be better able to act on their hopes and dreams for the future, whether by implementing the innovative approaches championed in 2040 or enacting those from elsewhere. Of the children he interviewed for the film, Gameau says that he was ‘inspired by what some of them were saying and thinking, and inspired by the thought of them getting a position of power in the future’.Gameau, quoted in Mottram, op. cit. Perhaps 2040’s real optimism lies in its trust – one that Gameau clearly believes we should share – in the next generation, who are already able to see a world beyond the one we currently live in.
|1||Cain Noble-Davies, ‘2040’, FilmInk, <https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/2040/>, accessed 15 May 2019.|
|2||Stephen Dalton, ‘2040: Film Review | Berlin 2019’, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 February 2019, <https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/2040-review-1187090>, accessed 15 May 2019.|
|3||Kathleen Parker, ‘Nothing in Today’s Headlines Compares to the Coming Catastrophe’, The Washington Post, 7 May 2019, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-end-of-the-everything-may-be-what-weve-been-needing/2019/05/07/902027ac-7101-11e9-9f06-5fc2ee80027a_story.html>, accessed 15 May 2019.|
|4||Damon Gameau, 2040 post-screening Q&A, Palace Cinemas, Brisbane, 6 May 2019.|
|5||David Ritter, 2040 post-screening Q&A, ibid.|
|6||See Suzanne Goldenberg, ‘Exxon Knew of Climate Change in 1981, Email Says – but It Funded Deniers for 27 More Years’, The Guardian, 9 July 2015, <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/08/exxon-climate-change-1981-climate-denier-funding>, accessed 21 May 2019.|
|7||Gameau, 2040 post-screening Q&A, op. cit.|
|8||Ritter, op. cit.|
|9||See Luke Buckmaster, ‘2040 Review – an Idealist’s Vision of a Healthy Earth’, The Guardian, 4 April 2019, <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/apr/04/2040-review-an-idealists-vision-of-a-healthy-earth>, accessed 15 May 2019.|
|10||Gameau, 2040 post-screening Q&A, ibid.|
|11||Damon Gameau, 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2019.|
|12||Damon Gameau, quoted in James Mottram, ‘Damon Gameau: That 2040 Film’, FilmInk, 3 April 2019, <https://www.filmink.com.au/damon-gameau-2040-film/>, accessed 15 May 2019.|
|13||See <https://whatsyour2040.com/activate-your-plan/>, accessed 15 May 2019.|
|14||‘Frequently Asked Questions’, ‘2040’, Madman Films website, <https://madmanfilms.com.au/2040film/2040-faqs/>, accessed 15 May 2019.|
|15||Dalton, op. cit.|
|16||See ‘Girls’ Education’, The World Bank, 25 September 2017, <https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/girlseducation>, accessed 15 May 2019.|
|17||Gameau, quoted in Mottram, op. cit.|