TIFF ’15: Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis meditate on impact financing

The intersection of impact financing and climate change was discussed at the TIFF Doc Conference on Wednesday (September 16) in a talk by This Changes Everything director Avi Lewis (pictured, left) and author Naomi Klein (right).
September 16, 2015

Impact financing and climate change  two hot topics in the documentary world this year – came together at the TIFF Doc Conference (September 16) during a talk by This Changes Everything director Avi Lewis (pictured, left) and author Naomi Klein (right), who wrote the titular book.

Like many other docmakers grappling with how to navigate climate change, the Canadian couple has taken a proactive approach on the issue, in this case by positing that climate change offers the world a chance to rethink the capitalist system that created it in the first place.

The doc will open theatrically in Canada in October via distributor Video Services Corp and screen in 40 to 60 other cities in community-based screenings as part of an outreach campaign that is eschewing social media in favor of face-to-face engagement at screenings and other events. It will be available online in November and later on DVD in markets where streaming is not so easily accessible.

“Somebody from outside a community will never be as effective as someone who lives there,” explained the film’s impact producer Katie McKenna during a chat with TIFF programmer Jesse Wente. “The only thing we committed to early on was that we were not going to focus on digital stuff but people connecting in real venues.”

The primary way the filmmakers have done that is by convening disparate groups of stakeholders – from Indigenous leaders to union leaders – to create the Leap manifesto, a document that lays out how Canada can shift its economy away from fossil fuels. It was signed by more than 100 prominent Canadians including actors Ellen Page, Sarah Polley and Donald Sutherland, and was presented Tuesday (September 15) in Toronto.

Klein explained that they purposely avoided financing the film through Canadian foundations to avoid any potential backlash from Canada’s Conservative government, which is going to the polls in a federal election in October.

When producers from New York-based Louverture Films were ​rustling up impact funding in the U.S., the filmmakers were faced with providing metrics and other ‘deliverables’ – not an easy thing to do when the stated goal is the wholesale upheaval of capitalism.

“Everybody is being pushed to this deliverables model so that mitigates against a deeper transformational agenda because your deliverables will be amorphous,” she explained, adding that the quest for financing is further compounded by the fact that docmakers are often competing for the same funds, meaning there is less incentive for collaboration.

Coming up with a manifesto to use as an engagement tool was also liberating creatively when it came to making the film, but not so when Klein was writing the book on which it is based.

The Shock Doctrine author has been criticized for not offering a 10-point plan to counter climate change in the book, but argued that is not her style – be it a literary or cinematic work.

“The film is the film and driven by the stories and the people in it,” she explained to Doc Conference delegates. “The film is not the plan, so [the manifesto] freed up space creatively for us to do the work that we wanted to do.”

Lewis agreed, recalling the pie-chart included at the end of Al Gore’s 2006 climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth and explaining, “The policy piece always feels clunky to me.”

Although This Changes Everything can be a “tool” for activists, Klein and Lewis were careful to point out that they are not activists and the film is not the “plan.”

“The focus of our work is to provide tools to people who are doing the work,” said Lewis. “As storytellers, we’re attempting to change the narrative…To think that you have to be the one to save the world is a direct route to a nervous breakdown.”

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