Why did you decide to include your personal journey in the documentary?
I think it’s a problem that climate change is framed in the media as a scientific issue and often times talked about in very academic ways. Climate change is about people. How to Let Go of the World sucked me in and took me on this crazy ride. That journey is a big part of the experience of watching the film. The film strives to tell stories that really make it clear how this is a personal issue. It’s not an abstraction; it’s not something in the future. It’s something that’s happening now that we have to get involved with.
How would you describe the message of How to Let Go of the World?
I thought I was making a film about climate change, and then in the middle of it I ended up making a film about the stunning revelation that it’s sort of too late to stop a lot of what we think about as climate change. That we have to refocus our dialogue to be about humanity as we progress through the most difficult period of change that we have ever seen. Do we want to be known as the moment in history that was incredibly violent, that was incredibly insensitive, that created wars, starved huge sections of the population, was selfish, and was racist? Or do we want future civilizations to look at this moment as the time we completely changed the way our civilization operates?
Music is a vivid part of this film. What is the importance of the musical selection for you?
It has about 50 tracks, from the Beatles to Duke Ellington to Coltane to Gershwin to tUnE-yArDs. We recorded the song for the credit sequence in four different time zones: Samoa, L.A., Colarado and in New York City. To me, in film, sound is actually superior to an image, because it’s the fabric of the emotional core. It’s the narrator; it’s the soul of the movie. Let me tell you, it was very difficult to get those Beatles tracks. I had to go to all of the Beatles, but at the end, the Beatles supporting your film is the greatest feeling on earth.
What are the things that climate change can’t change?
The old saw that you can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you react pertains here. Climate change will change everything on the planet. But what we control is our sense of virtue and our sense of values and our sense of depth. In the film, we clearly outline the things that won’t change: courage, creativity, resilience, civil disobedience, innovation, human rights, democracy, community, revolution, love. These are principles that we must cling to if we’re going to keep our humanity. It’s almost a way of asking the question “What makes human beings worth saving?”
What knowledge or experience do you hope the audience walks away with?
What we’re doing in this film is re-sensitizing. You’re watching people in the most dire circumstance, trekking through the Amazon, in China with the worst pollution you’ve ever seen in the world and at peril of losing their own civil liberties, still speaking out. It’s a remarkable occurrence. It’s catharsis. I don’t want it to feel like, "Oh, the future’s going to be rotten," or "The future’s going to be great." I want it to feel like, "Whatever future comes, I’m going to be awake."