Filmmaker Joe Gantz On The Race To Save The World

Emmy award-winning filmmaker Joe Gantz is known for work that examines personal stories with honesty, humour, and depth. His film style is of “life in progress” which allows the subjects to be comfortable enough to go about their daily life as if there was no one filming. The subjects are not performing and there is no agenda, as the narrative crafts itself around the subject’s lives, making for very authentic storytelling. His latest film THE RACE TO SAVE THE WORLD (trailer), illuminates the human stories in the fight for climate action. Rather than focusing on scary statistics and abstract predictions, the feature follows a range of environmental campaigners, of all ages, who are prepared to sacrifice everything in order to save the world.

The Race To Save The World will have its general UK release on Earth Day 22 April (book tickets here) followed by a VOD launch across all major platforms from June.  

The Race To Save The World is a powerful feature length documentary, focusing on the people behind the fight rather than statistics and visuals we’re used to. Joe, why did you feel that it was finally time for these voices to be heard?

I call my approach to documentary filmmaking, life-in-progress. Once I choose my subjects I fade into the background and let their story evolve without my interference.  I try to be around a lot, so that I can be present for the important events as well as many everyday moments.  As we work together again and again the subjects get used to my small crew being in the background and they go about their lives, which makes their story arc intimate and authentic.

I wanted to make a film about people fighting climate change.  And I felt that many films about climate change focus on how bad things are and how much worse they will get.  These films can be so overwhelming and depressing that viewers feel hopeless watching them.  I decided to follow regular people who are in the trenches doing all they can to try to turn this around, people who see the danger coming and are not willing to tune it out and go about their lives.  I felt that this life-in-progress filmmaking could show these activists’ passion and unwavering commitment to draw attention to the climate crisis, and that could inspire and energize viewers to get involved and make their voices heard for a liveable future.

The film follows such a wide range of environmental campaigners of all ages, really showing off the power that people have when we stand up for what we believe in. How did you find the people to showcase them?

I wanted to follow regular people, rather than well-known activists, or people whose job it is to warn us about climate change, such as professors and journalists.  It took a lot of time to find the subjects that I ended up including in the film.  I probably spent three years filming many people in various cities around the country before I settled on the eight subjects that I would focus on over the next three years. 

We meet so many parents, wanting to care for their children and homes, but showing us that none of that matters if we don’t have a planet to live on. Did you grow up in this sort of household? If not, where did your interest for these topics begin?

I am 66 years old.  When I was growing up no one worried about climate change.  I started worrying about the environment in my late twenties. 

Over the last twenty five years, though, I have been increasingly worried about our collective ability to face this climate crisis with the type of focus and resolve that is needed to have a chance of turning this around.  I believe that the politicians in the United States are aware of the threat of climate change, because the defence department and other agencies of the government have been planning for climate change for many years.  But a large percentage of our politicians are working with the fossil fuel industry to orchestrate blatant lies about climate change in order to undermine our chances of making meaningful progress.  I have two kids, both in their twenties, and I want to do everything I can to be able to leave our children and grandchildren a liveable future.

In the film when one of the mothers is in court and struggling to answer questions and she feels like things need to slow down, what was it like seeing the lives of everyday people change and even break down and having to put that into film format?

Many people feel sorry for Abby on the witness stand when she freezes and can barely put a sentence together.  Perhaps they wish I didn’t put that scene in the film.  My commitment is to show Abby authentically, to show all the subjects authentically.  I find that viewers connect with, and identify with, these subjects through their vulnerabilities, not because they come across as some sort of super hero.  On the witness stand Abby is so desperate to express herself, because she knows how much is at stake in this battle against climate change, and that causes her to freeze up.  Later that evening Abby discusses that moment with her family and she says, I just want to do good.  Her husband, Roger replies, what makes you think you’re not?  I feel that moments like that let us see Abby’s intense desire to take action for our collective future, and that is what makes Abby someone to look up to.

Two young boys share with us how they write songs and raps together to share their message, saying how often words and speech aren’t enough, that catchy tunes and physical work is better. What are some of your favourite ways to get involved with things that are important to you?

I agree with Aji and Adonis, that people will not remember speeches.  However, if there is a song that moves them with the words and the music, then you can have something very powerful.  It is possible in a song or a film, to capture someone’s passion and commitment to create a sustainable future.  And if that is compelling, and if the person feels fully immersed in the song or the film, then you have the possibility of creating a transformative experience.

I think my favourite piece of activism was the people flooding into the water with kayaks, all united in protest. People put their lives at risk to show their fight and support, but do you think lines are crossed and people put themselves in too much of a dangerous position?

If people are not aware of the risks that they are taking, that can be a problem.  Some people are willing to take huge risks, like Michael did turning off the Keystone pipeline.  Other people, for very good reasons, are not willing to take those kinds of risks.  But everyone can contribute, everyone can get involved, and everyone can make their voices heard for a liveable future.  There are all kinds of organizations that one can join to participate in this fight against climate change with whatever degree of risk is comfortable.

Continuing on from that question, we can see the police as bad people but often they are just doing their job. When does good become bad?

That is a very important question, and one that is front and center in the black lives matter movement.  I could spend hours trying to work on an answer to this question.  But I think that when the police, or the justice system, sees anyone as different than them, or as less than them, or sees one group as better than another, then you are going down the wrong road and there will inevitably be problems. 

When seeing important documentaries like Seaspiracy, Blackfish, etc, we’re left with so many emotions and the want to make the world better. What is the aim with your documentary and how you want people to feel after seeing it?

I would like people watching The Race To Save The World to say to themselves, if Aji at age 15, or Miriam at age 72, or Bill or Abby or Michael in between, can do what they are doing then I can do something.  The difference between the subjects in this film and most people on this planet, is that these folks are taking action, these people can’t tune out the problem.  Everything we love can be lost if we ignore climate change and go about our lives.  There is no more time to wait and see if someone will come along and miraculously save us.  We need to jump in, take to the streets, make our voices heard and do whatever we can to try to turn this around and create a liveable world for future generations.

Being released on Earth Day, this will really highlight the films importance and emphasise how our support of the earth needs to be year-round, not just one day in April. How can people who see the film continue this project like the people in your film?

There is a list of organizations on our website that people can join.  And there are sub groups of these organizations in whatever part of the country or the world you live in.  Our website is: www.theracetosavetheworld.com

I would agree with Miriam and others in The Race To Save The World that the antidote for depression is to take action to combat climate change.  And I would agree with Bill, when he and his daughter are talking on the couch in the film.  His daughter says, change is inevitable so it shouldn’t be feared.  Bill replies, yes, change is inevitable, but are we going to be the authors of that change or the victims of the change?  We all have to get involved and do what we can, now, while there is still time to turn this around.  You certainly don’t need to get arrested, you just need to participate at this critical moment and stand with those on the right side of history, the side of those climate warriors who are doing all they can to save the world.

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