I have a confession to make: I don’t watch environmental films. After all, I know what they’re going to tell me, right? And I’m doing my best, right? Do I really want to listen to someone tell me how bad things are when I already know? But flattery will get you lots of places, and when I was offered the chance to screen and review Rob Stewart’s new film Revolution, I said yes. (For the record, I didn’t have to promise the review would be good, and I don’t get any kick-backs based on click-throughs.)
What I’d been forgetting is that films don’t just tell, they show. Revolution is, firstly, stunning. It’s filled with shots of creatures that make you think, “Wait, that’s a real live living thing? That’s so crazy and cool and gorgeous and just plain weird!” In the narration of the film, Stewart says, after describing his first experience with a shark, “…sharks were like dragons or dinosaurs, but they were real.” This film is filled with images that remind you of how fantastic and unlikely and breathtaking this world is. Just for that, it’s worth watching. Just for the sheer joy of remembering that we’re on the same planet as creatures like cuttlefish and baobab trees.
Of course, it isn’t all happiness and joy. There are darker images: Ruined coral reefs. The Alberta tar sands. Huge plastic bags full of dead seahorses, caught for consumption. The impact of these images lies in the fact that they’re not shoved in your face the way Game of Thrones loves to spatter blood around. Instead, they’re presented almost gently. As in, huh, bags full of something brown. And then you recognize that they’re seahorses, small ones, so there must be thousands in those bags. And then you think of the way seahorses move, because you’ve been watching gorgeous images of sea creatures. And perhaps, if you’re like me, you think of how seahorses have always been one of those animals that seem to be out of a fairy tale, one of the creatures in this world that really seems to argue for the reality of magic, or something even better. And seeing them there, body after body piled into clear plastic bags, so obviously a commodity speaks for itself.
It’s this gentle, almost meditative quality that really drew me into the film. Told almost conversationally, in the format of a memoir, Revolution follows Stewart’s own experiences: learning about animals as a kid, making the film Sharkwater, and realizing that it’s not just sharks that need saving, it’s the oceans, the forests, the atmosphere, and us. While Stewart does call his audience to action, he’s not shoving an agenda at the viewer, and this film is refreshingly lacking in pontification. Stewart acknowledges both the crushing frustration of watching politicians do nothing again and again – but also offers evidence that hope is merited, that people really do care enough to make changes. He encourages personal action and personal responsibility, while acknowledging his own outsized debt to the environment incurred in the making of the film. Perhaps the best thing about this film is Stewart’s talent for sharing his own contagious affection for the creatures filmed, for the natural world as a whole, and for the young activists striving to make things right.
Conversations about the environment so often only happen among those who already agree with each other. The liberals talk about how scary global warming is, while the conservatives, I imagine, talk about how crazy those conservationists are. This is a film that I think might be able to cross those boundaries, because you just can’t help but be delighted by shots of leaping sifakas (a type of lemur) and pygmy seahorses, because it’s a first-person narrative (“I did this” instead of “you should do this”), and because this is a story told in an openhearted way. I know no one wants family fights over climate change, but this is a film that just might start a conversation instead.
I was ready, when I hit play, for the harrowing statistics, the overarching problems. They’re problems that I already fight to contribute to as little as I can, that I already obsess over, that, frankly, I usually do my best to avoid hearing more about. What I wasn’t ready for was Stewart’s modest way of presenting our generous and exuberant world – the world we’re fighting for. As he asks, “What if we had a world to fight for instead of fighting against our problems? What kind of world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?” It’s worth finding out, and if you want to share with friends why we’re fighting for that world, or if you could use a refresher yourself, watch this: