I suppose I’m supposed to laud documentaries that do social good, especially on issues as important as climate change. But a film is a film and has to be judged on its merits and not on its politics. Although we can evaluate its politics too. Brian Hill’s Climate of Change comes up short on both measures. Hill takes us around the world to focus on people making positive changes to fight climate change. There are a group of children in India fighting plastic bag usage, a man in Togo educating people on the need for trees, anti-mountaintop removal activists in West Virginia, a British woman working on recycling and green capitalism, and a few others. But this film fails to speak truth to power. It comes close at times, particularly in the West Virginia and Togo stories, as well as a brief interlude in New Guinea about the rapacity of the timber industry.
But the heavy focus on the British recycling woman undermines the effort. What she’s doing is fine, but the film works very hard to make environmentalism something isn’t about the hippies and to convince us that we can make huge changes by ourselves through simple acts like recycling. The problem with the latter is that this just isn’t true. Environmentalism often gets tainted with being too dark and apocalyptic and I’m sure Hill was trying to fight that stereotype, but what you are left with is a film that presumes to make you feel good about what you can do without giving viewers any understanding of the powers that have prevented us as a society from doing anything about climate change. So it just feels empty. Even the kids in India speak as if they’ve been trained in spouting cliches. It’s disappointing.
Tilda Swinton provides the narration. In rhyme. That’s very Tilda Swinton and at first it is entertaining but it also distracts from the film. Plus the text very much tracks in romantic Mother Earth language that isn’t particularly helpful, nor is does it connect with the type of stories Hill tells in the film.