How to Change the World
Directed by Jerry Rothwell (2015)
Māori TV showed How to Change the World last night. It relates the story of the 1971 founding of the international environmental group Greenpeace. Based on archival Greenpeace footage and retrospective interviews with its founders, the documentary makes it appear as if the organization founded itself by accident out of Vancouver’s strong anti-Vietnam war movement. During the late sixties and early seventies, the Canadian city was a magnet for young American expatriates fleeing the draft.
The accidental pairing of eco-freaks with antiwar activists in a sea protest to block a nuclear test on the Aleutian island of Amitchitka led them to coin a name – Greenpeace – representing both camps.
Bob Hunter, an environmental reporter for the Vancouver Sun, went along on that first protest in his journalistic role. When the popular uproar generated by that first protest resulted in the shutdown of the Amitchka nuclear test site, he resigned from his newspaper job to spearhead the Greenpeace Save the Whales campaign. His genius lay in creating media “mind bombs” with spectacular footage that instantly riveted popular attention.
The documentary replays the original footage from a confrontation with a Soviet whaling ship off the California coast. It’s graphically cruel and bloody and definitely unsuitable for children’s viewing.
The founders allowed the name Greenpeace to be freely borrowed by environmental groups all over the world. Which, as with most grassroots organizations, led to significant growing pains. Hunter made a number of unpopular decisions without consulting the rest of the group. One of the most contentious was his decision to accept the CIA ‘s offer of free fuel and intelligence an the location of Soviet whaling vessels.
The film can be viewed for free for the next few weeks at the Māori TV website: