Inspiring community action on climate change through film

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Inspiring community action on climate change through film

Kai Reimer-Watts is a filmmaker and a community activist based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first feature-length documentary is Beyond Crisis, "a meditative call to action that explores what it means to be living in this new era of climate change, as told by over fifty diverse voices from across Canada, the U.S. and beyond." Scott Neigh interviews him about climate change, about the film, and about building the kinds of collective responses to climate change that the world needs.

Back in 2014, plans were in the works for the People's Climate March, a major action in New York City with supporting actions around the world, timed to correspond with one of the periodic United Nations conferences on climate change. At that point, Reimer-Watts was actively involved in the Toronto chapter of the climate movement organization The Toronto group mobilized several hundred people to make the trip via bus to New York, to contribute to the hundreds of thousands that took the streets that day.

About a dozen of the folks doing the organizing in Toronto had either experience of or interest in filmmaking. Initially, they just wanted to document that one action, which was the largest climate-focused mobilization to that point in history, and to interview people from communities in the New York area that were part of making it happen. But they emerged from the People's Climate March energized and they wanted to turn the project into something larger.

They fundraised just enough money to incorporate their own little production company and to pay for a tour across Canada and the United States. On that tour, they interviewed as wide a range of people as they could about climate change and about taking action – faith leaders, academics, Indigenous leaders, artists, politicians, and more. From more than a hundred hours of footage, they crafted a sharp one-hour film that goes through the threat that climate change poses, the important actions that so many people in so many communities are already taking, and the society-wide engagement that we are going to need if we want to build an effective response. The film, directed by Reimer-Watts, was released in the fall of 2017 under the title Beyond Crisis.

They tried to craft the film in ways that would maximize its utility as a movement-building intervention. For instance, even though aiming for a run-time of just an hour made the editing process more difficult, they did so to allow for more time after screenings for collective conversation. And, indeed, in the resources they have produced to promote the film, they have actively encouraged such conversation, and it has been part of most of the screenings so far. To date, the majority of screenings have taken place in Ontario, but some have happened as far afield as Hong Kong and England, and the current phase of the promotional work aims to expand the film's reach.

For Reimer-Watts, it was important to orient the overall narrative of the film not only to show the gravity of the climate crisis, but to show the possibilities for meaningful action as well – that it actively encourage hope and action rather than passive despair. Part of this involved focusing less on the sorts of positive but vastly inadequate individual consumption choices that are so often the go-to answers to "what can I do" from environmental media and more on collective action, including collective efforts to organize and mobilize climate-focused social movements.

It was also important to Reimer-Watts to understand the film in terms of intervention into culture. Cultural change, he argues, is an important arena for responding to the climate crisis. While mobilizing to win specific short-term policy and spending victories can be tremendously important, long-term shifts in the culture are just as necessary – in part to undercut the possibility of backlash from reactionary demagogues along the lines Donald Trump and Doug Ford, but also to create the conditions of possibility for more ambitious political wins down the road. This is so important to Reimer-Watts and to some of the others involved in making the film that they have also founded a non-profit organization called the People's Climate Foundation, focused on building a creative cultural response to climate change.

Image: Used with permission of Kai Reimer-Watts and Beyond Crisis.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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