As an educator, host of the CBC’s long-running natural history and science program, The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, an organization aimed at environmental conservation, 74-year-old Suzuki has been an enviro-icon for 30 years.
His passion for science, natural history, the environment, and the various issues impacting and surrounding all of these topics is practically unrivalled. And with the release of the documentary Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie, directed by Sturla Gunnarsson (Air India 182, Gerrie & Louise) longtime fans will learn more about why he’s devoted his life to these concerns.
The Entertainment One/National Film Board of Canada coproduction, made in association with the CBC, saw its origins when eOne Television president Laszlo Barna, approached Suzuki about making a feature film. Originally, the geneticist and environmental activist wrote up a very long proposal that envisioned an Avatar-esque film about the origin of the universe. ‘When I think about it, it was a multi-million dollar proposal,’ says Suzuki now.
Instead, Barna, his then-SVP of factual programming Steven Silver and Gunnarsson were attending Suzuki lectures and determined that the scientist should be the central figure, something that Suzuki himself was uncomfortable with.
‘I never set out to be a celebrity and I find it a very difficult role to play,’ he admits. ‘I always thought I was just a messenger, transmitting information to the public.’
But the production team and director had other ideas for Suzuki. ‘I felt that David was at a particular moment in his life where he’s looking back on things and trying to get a handle on what it’s all about – his legacy, his mortality,’ says Gunnarsson. ‘And that struck me as a very powerful idea for a film.’
The documentary weaves key moments of Suzuki’s life together with a Legacy Lecture that he delivered at the University of British Columbia. ‘It’s a biography of the ideas more so than a biography,’ says the director. ‘We do pilgrimages to places of importance and turning points that resulted in the building blocks of the body of thought that is Suzuki.’
Those locations include the camps where Suzuki, his parents and siblings were interned during the war; Japan on the anniversary of the bomb and Haida Gwaii in B.C. Suzuki also talks about a swamp he visited in his youth that was ‘magical’ but unfortunately is now a giant parking lot.
‘Sturla wanted to use [the film] as a way of showing that during my life, a number of key things happened directly to me that were relevant to the world: WWII, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what happened to the Japanese-Canadians, the Civil Rights movement I was involved in and genetics,’ says Suzuki.
The film will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 11 and 12. Having TIFF as the launch pad for the film is an added bonus for the Toronto-based Gunnarsson.
‘It’s nice to be able to sleep in my own bed and ride my bike to the premiere,’ he says. ‘It’s a beautiful 35 mm print – or at least I hope it’s going to be a big beautiful 35 mm print. I’m getting it out of the lab the day before the press screening. Fingers crossed.’