“Climate change, destruction of the earth’s surface and population growth are leading us to a tipping point.”
That’s the message coming across loud and clear from “Tomorrow,” the new eco-documentary that just hit big screens across the U.S. on Earth Day weekend.
But before you shake your head and bemoan another “downer doc,” be aware that the movie, which won a Cesar (the French Oscar) for Best Documentary in 2016, is much more about hope and cheer than gloom and doom.
That’s because the filmmakers made the intentional decision to focus on inspiring solutions, and they traveled to the U.S. and nine countries in Europe to find them.
At the onset of the film, French actress and film co-director Mélanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds) explains how it all came about. A few years ago, Cyril Dion approached her when she was pregnant and told her about a study in Nature magazine that predicted the possible extinction of part of humanity by 2100. The report said that “my son would grow up in a world where food, oil and water would be hard to find,” Laurent remarks disbelievingly.
Dion wanted to try to buck the trends by making a hopeful film aimed at people who were “fed up with catastrophes,” and asked Laurent to help.
I’d hoped to interview Mélanie Laurent, but she’s on location making a new movie and couldn’t be reached. Happily, Cyril Dion was available to share his reasons for making the film, and the hopes that it conveys. Here’s my interview with him.
First and foremost, I was interested in Cyril’s motivations to tackle such big topics as climate change and resource destruction from his perspective as a father.
You must have been aware of environmental problems before becoming a father; did you not take them seriously then, or not feel like they would affect you personally?
I have been aware of environmental issues for most of my adult life, and always felt strongly concerned and compelled to get involved. However, becoming a father made me much more conscious of the fragility of life and of my responsibility to take care of it. And I guess this particular study (the Nature study), made me feel that we couldn’t let our children face such a disaster without doing anything to avoid it.
What was unique about becoming a father that really woke you up to the environmental threats we face?
Holding my son in my hands. Feeling that he wouldn’t survive if my wife and I wouldn’t take care of him. Feeling that whatever I do now, I cannot live only for myself anymore. Having children is the end of selfishness. Or, it should be.
Children are disproportionately affected by toxic chemicals in the environment. Are you taking particular steps to protect yourself and your child from exposure to toxic threats?
My wife and I do whatever is in our power to live by the principles we put forth in the film. We buy organic products, from local farmers when possible, and always give extra attention to what we see in our plates (and also what we don’t see!). I think the most important way to protect our children starts with good and healthy eating habits. We also use organic cosmetics, detergent, natural paintings (for the walls), no pesticides in our garden, plus organic clothes as far as we can, and a water filter.
How did you choose the 10 countries you visited, and the people you interviewed?
First, we wanted the initiatives to be big or successful enough to convince event reluctant people. Then, we chose mainly initiatives in Europe and in the US. We wanted to tell another story of “development” in the “western world.” For decades, Europe and the US have spent a lot of energy to export their development model all around the world. It worked so well that everybody wants to live like we do, and lots of countries are destroying their previous structures to imitate us. But we know now that living like this is leading to massive catastrophes. We don’t have enough natural resources. So we tried to tell a different story about the future. The message is basically: “Don’t try to live like a regular crazy French or American. You have great things. And maybe we can go on this path together to try to be more autonomous and exchange and interact in a different way.”
How did you choose the particular issues you focused on?
We started with food because it is our most basic need. We then needed to show that everything is linked. When you try to change the food system, you see that it is highly dependent on the powerful oil system. You then speak about energy and see that some regions aren’t able to participate in the energy transition because they are so in debt and you ask yourself “why?” So we dove into economy and found some solutions. But we’ve seen that the economy takes power from the democracy, leading to the question: How can we get the power back? We found examples that are only working because people are really involved. And this is something we should learn in school. We should raise kids to be free to take responsibility. That’s how we came up with segments based on agriculture, energy, economy, democracy and education.
I focus on mobilizing women’s consumer clout to create incentives to manufacturers to reduce pollution. How do you think shopping and conscientious consumption fit into the picture when it comes to protecting the planet?
That is one of the main things you can do every day – choose to buy or not to buy. We are definitely buying too much stuff and creating an insane amount of waste. Then we need to ask ourselves what the impact on the planet, on the people and on us will be. Proper and independent labeling of consumer products is a very important issue. We need to ensure that people have access, at reasonable prices, to products that protect the environment and do not enslave other people. Also, buying local, in independent shops, creates two-to-four times more jobs, two-to-four times the wealth to share in our community compared to buying from a big company. That is a way to get our economic power back.
As you traveled the world, did you find yourself getting more hopeful that we’ll solve our global environmental crises, or more worried that we’re not moving fast enough?
As we traveled, we realized that the world lacked encouraging initiatives. We also found initiatives that were amazingly impactful and easily replicable. I am aware more than ever that if we continue to behave the way we do, there will be no hope and sooner than we might think. But I also believe that we can all play a role to save our planet and protect our future. This is what “Tomorrow” is about, showing that individual and local actions are the immediate and concrete solutions. And that if we gather, we can even shift the political system.
Do you have any advice for President Donald Trump re: climate change?
If he really thinks climate change is a hoax, I’m ok to take him to some places where he will see it is not! Seriously, I would love President Trump to watch the film and let us know what he thinks; after all, he is also a father. When you are the president of such a big and powerful country you have a huge responsibility. Fixing ecological problems might be the biggest challenge the human race ever faced. So he needs to take a stand with the world.
WATCH the Tomorrow trailer HERE.