From How to Change the World’s title, you may be expecting a self-help documentary or at least a few useful life tips. If that’s the case, look elsewhere. The subjects of this documentary do not in any way seem qualified to dispense that sort of wisdom, nor are they interested in doing so.
How to Change the World tells the story of Greenpeace’s founders. They were (/are) a bunch of hippies, 99% white males, and absolutely unqualified for the job. They couldn’t agree on much as a small group and then when film of their anti-whaling stunts gave them fame/notoriety, they completely imploded. Protests are aborted, physical injuries are sustained, lawsuits are commenced (Greenpeace v. Greenpeace!), turncoats are identified, and shots are taken liberally at one another. Essentially, it’s an episode of Big Brother starring a bunch of 65-year-old grouches.
That sort of thing normally does not appeal to me. Still, I found How to Change the World very interesting for several reasons.
First, the amount of footage these hippies compiled in the 1970s is astounding and makes the film feel alive. We do not just hear interviews about their adventures, we see these escapades on screen, and that makes this movie extremely easy to watch (aside from the awkwardness of the in-fighting) as well as entertaining (possibly because of all the awkward in-fighting!).
Second, the rise and fall of this branch of Greenpeace is a fascinating study of the effect of fame. Most of the conflict we see seems to arise out of the external attention and accompanying pressure this group faces after they hit it big. Not that they all get along at the start (they don’t, even then they fight regularly), but initially they can look past those disagreements because they are agreed on the bigger goal. But once there are no clear goals, or too many, the interpersonal issues take centre stage. It doesn’t help that none of these guys is remotely qualified to run a multinational organization, but it sure adds fuel to the fire!
Third, it is remarkable to see the different paths these characters take after their initial adventures. The conflict between the turncoat and the injured member in particular is given a whole new perspective by movie’s end.
Overall, I enjoyed How to Change the World even though I was frequently annoyed or exasperated by these characters, especially by the pseudo-philosophical musings of the journalist-turned-leader of this motley crew. The fact the movie overcame that annoyance says a lot about the content. How to Change the World is well put together and it feels very honest, which makes it feel real.
I give How to Change the World a score of seven bumbling hippies out of ten.