Climate change is a big problem. It’s a really big problem. In fact, to borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams, “You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.”
And that is a problem all on its own.
Here at Planet Experts, we’ve illustrated this problem to the best of our abilities with the best science available. We’ve explained why the global average temperature can’t rise more than two degrees Celsius, and why the world needs to slash its carbon emissions by 60 percent, what Antarctic ice cores have to tell us about prehistoric temperatures, and how the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation could change everything we know about climate.
But those are all very big ideas that involve hundreds of countries, thousands of reports and billions and billions of people. For those who don’t study data for a living, it can sound daunting or even absurd.
That’s what led Joe and Harry Gantz to examine the problem from another angle.
Preaching Beyond the Choir
The Gantz brothers are the Emmy Award-winning producers behind the long-running HBO documentary series Taxicab Confessions. They also produced and directed the feature-length documentaries Sex with Strangers (2002) and, most recently, American Winter (2013), which focused on America’s disappearing middle-class in the wake of the Great Recession.
For the last 25 years, the brothers have pioneered the documentary style of what Joe calls “following life in progress,” choosing subjects to follow and then letting their lives unfold organically.
“We just trust that the story that comes out of that will be much more relatable and powerful than if we’d tried to influence it in any way,” said Joe.
The danger, he added, is that “you’ll never know when it will end and what direction it will end,” but the result will always be truthful, because it “really grows out of a person’s true nature and defines who they are deeply.”
When the brothers set out to make a documentary on climate change, they weren’t about to check their sensibilities at the door. The Gantzes wanted to bring the focus down from the almost incomprehensible scope of the entire globe and onto the shoulders of individual people.
“Many documentary films about climate change can be incredibly frightening, or didactic and preachy,” said Harry. “That type of documentary works to energize the base, but it doesn’t reach far beyond the choir.”
“People in general don’t deal with that well,” said Joe.
Instead of making a film that preached to the environmental choir, the brothers chose to tell the stories of men and women who are involved in personal battles against climate change.
“We want to make a film that brings more people into the fold,” said Joe, “that will relate to people from all backgrounds – both left and right or whatever categories you want to say – and do a film that will ultimately create more people in the movement so that you can change policy and move things forward.”
The Race to Save the World
For the past year, the Gantzes have followed scientists, journalists and activists in their individual struggles against climate change. Their documentary, The Race to Save the World, has proceeded in fits and starts as they have endured their own struggle to secure funding.
“It hasn’t been optimal,” said Joe, “but we’ve been able to get what we need and we’re going to continue until we get the story.”
Joe believes it’s crucial to get that story out now, not only for the planet’s sake but for the sake of the people who have yet to decide on the science.
“I feel like there is a brief window and then it’s going to be too late to have any real impact on climate change,” said Joe. “It’s really a time for all hands on deck. If you know what’s going on and you decide you’re not going to devote some large portion of your time to this, then kind of shame on you – when 10, 15, 20 years from now we find out maybe it’s too late to have an impact anymore.”
For Joe, a former Physics major, the facts couldn’t be any clearer. But in trying to make a non-polarizing documentary that reaches across the aisle, he says he’s painfully aware of the skeptics’ point of view.
“The knowledge about what’s going on with climate change is in the ether,” he said. “It’s out there. People are either taking it in or they find it so frightening and overwhelming that they’re tuning it out and building a barrier around themselves. I don’t blame people who are doing that, because I think it is unbelievably overwhelming.”
By focusing on the individual crusades of his subjects (Joe affectionately refers to them as his “Don Quixotes”), he hopes the film will inspire before it politicizes. That’s why its frenetic filming schedule, dependent on sporadic funding, has presented such a challenge.
“That’s really difficult in the type of filmmaking we do,” said Joe, “because we’re following people’s lives, and when we stop their lives go on and we miss important moments in their story arc. And that kills me.”
One of the most disappointing blows came when requests to help sponsor their documentary was denied by several large environmental organizations.
“I don’t know why the big climate change organizations don’t cooperate with grassroots projects like ours,” said Joe, “but if you ask…they’re like, ‘No, we only do our projects.’”
Joe let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m like, come on, climate change is breathing down our neck. Maybe you need to help create those grassroots movements that are so important.”
Requests to some of the bigger climate change organizations asking for help promoting the film’s Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign on social media were similarly denied.
“Actually, it was very devastating to me,” said Joe. “[They said], ‘We can’t help you, we’re doing our own fundraising.’ I was just shocked and really depressed about that, because it was so counter-productive.”
I told Joe it reminded me of something Planet Expert Greg Wendt had told me in an interview last year, that there is a pressing need for designing “a more effective cooperative framework amongst progressive, environmental and social justice organizations. […] Even among the movement that wants to make the world a better place, it’s surprising how much divisiveness there is.”
It is a divisiveness that Joe found to be both disheartening and alarming. “It’s one thing if you’re in a field that doesn’t really matter,” he said, “but if we’re talking about catastrophic climate change with a timeframe that is very limited and there’s so much work that needs to be done and change that needs to happen, and the people who are wearing the mantle of leaders are unwilling to help others who are working on the same issue and able to move the needle forward, then it doesn’t bode well for our future.”
Crowdsourcing the Future
To finish their film, Joe and Harry have created an online campaign to raise $40,000.
“We’ll finish this film one way or another,” said Joe, but if this Indiegogo campaign is successful, “it certainly will get done faster.”
To learn more about The Race to Save the World, you can visit the film’s official website. To help sponsor the project, visit their campaign on Indiegogo or make a donation through the International Documentary Association.