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Q&A with Jerry Rothwell, director of How to Change the World

Sunday 13 September 2015, by Abla Kandalaft

Your previous documentaries are all about widely varying subjects. What inspired you to make one about Greenpeace?

I try and do something different from one film to the next. I like looking at new subject matter and trying new approaches. This one emerged from the realisation that there was all this footage, all the original rushes used in Greenpeace’s campaigning films in the 1970s that hadn’t really been looked at since. I was interested in making a film that wasn’t a campaigning film but that was about campaigning. So I wanted to use this footage differently and find the story of the human dilemma of those people that were part of something we’re all familiar with.

What sparked the idea of using Bob Hunter’s words to narrate the film?

Bob Hunter shaped the character of the organisation and he wrote 13 books, not all about Greenpeace but that have many references to the movement; two of those are in fact memoirs of those years. They’re not promotional works, they’re self-critical, full of doubt. He was a journalist before he was an activist and his writing had a gonzo journalism, poetic quality to it, some of it was free-flow writing typical of the period. It felt to me that this was a place to sit the narrative voice in the film, to tell that story through Bob Hunter. Hunter is a central character. It’s his struggle with Greenpeace, his struggle with the idea of leadership that are at the heart of the film.

What is the idea behind the use of animation?

Bob was a comic book artist before he was a journalist. We were interested in finding visuals for the narrative voice. It felt to me that animation would be the right way to do this. The style was then developed with our animation director into something quite unique. It felt right for the film, especially in places where more spiritual, surreal, revelatory things are happening, slightly more personal moments in the film, moments of internal struggle.

Could you tell us a bit more about the soundtrack?

I felt music was a really important element to access to the mood, the feel, the texture of the period. I worked with the composer Lesley Barber to put together the soundtrack. The recorded music was mainly from artists who had some sort of relationship with Greenpeace, such as Joni Mitchell. There’s a subliminal connection between the musicians, Greenpeace and this period.

Why did you chose to divide up the film into chapters?

The title of the film was really intended as a joke. I don’t think there is a single way of changing the world, change is a complex, organic process. It’s a very bold, ironic title. In a way, it should say “how not to change the world” because of a lot of [the movement’s actions] were messed up in many ways. But with this idea in mind, I came across a lot of fantastic turns of phrases and sayings, sayings about the way social change happens: “put your money where your mind is”, “plant a mind bomb” and so on, ideas that I felt applied to certain stages in the story, so I thought of using them as devices to segment chapters of the film.

Who’s your intended audience? Did that inform its distribution?

I don’t really think consciously of who the film is intended for ahead of making it. Perhaps, if you’re making a film for young people you might not make a feature doc, because they consume media in different ways. But I wanted to make a film that wasn’t just aimed at activists or would only interest environmentalists because I think the things we discover in what Greenpeace went through are true of all human groups. Any group of people that tried to do anything will recognise themselves and their colleagues in those stories. I hope it gets a much wider audience that’s drawn in by the human dynamics of the story.

Any message or comments?

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