Climate of Change

Half eco-docu, half art, "Climate of Change" is social-action cinema with a twist -- it suggests that human beings might actually deserve an unspoiled planet.

Half eco-docu, half art, “Climate of Change” is social-action cinema with a twist — it suggests that human beings might actually deserve an unspoiled planet. Via music, intoxicating visuals and Simon Armitage’s poetry — recited with her customary elegance by vocal hypnotist Tilda Swinton — pic mixes the best of humanity with the worst, including the rape of the West Virginia landscape by coal interests and the mercenary razing of Pacific Island rainforests. A must-see for the green at heart, “Climate” will hit VOD date-and-date with its Tribeca fest screenings, to be followed by a small theatrical release.

No one familiar with Brit helmer Brian Hill will be surprised by the pic’s shots of schoolchildren spontaneously singing in the streets of India, or the segues from poisoned Appalachian streams and topless mountains to Swinton’s voiceover, which imbues the physical world with a meter all its own. Hill has always brought a musical-theatrical element to his nonfiction, be it the landmark “Drinking for England,” which paid melodic tribute to Anglo drunkenness, or the memorable “Songbirds,” in which female inmates sang their own stories. In “Climate of Change,” Hill once again uses Armitage’s verse, its occasionally Dr. Seuss-like cadences rocking us into a rhythmic synchronicity with an Earth shot with crystal clarity, and with a mix of horrible beauty and enlightened despair.

As we should, we learn things we didn’t know — that those schoolkids in Patna, India, are organizing to fight the proliferation of plastic bags and bottles; that Sena Alouka of Togo is working to promote the use of domestic items like solar cookers that help diminish carbon emissions; that someone like Larry Gibson can hold out against the mining companies, sitting alone on his 50-acre mountain — poorer, perhaps, but righteously defiant. And that someone like the vivacious Solitaire Townsend can found a flourishing communications company in London devoted to the environment and social justice.

Between these personal profiles, there are the near-hallucinogenic journeys with Swinton, the most delicious of which is a trip to the snow-frosted Global Seed Vault in Svlbard, Norway, where “seeds fixed in time,” including “kernels, pips/Stones and beans” comprise “a doomsday allotment/Just in case.” Mixing medical, military and sexual vocabularies, Armitage creates two-way metaphors, in which he both inhabits and exposes the motives of faceless corporate polluters. What Hill accomplishes is a marriage of fear and hope — which is, after all, the point of the film.

Where “Climate of Change” falters is in devoting a little too much time to those Indian students, who are stupefyingly articulate but end up repeating their points a few too many times. They’re fun to watch, but it amounts to wheel-spinning. Otherwise, “Climate” takes the eco-docu in a new direction, which is good, given that the polar ice caps keep melting.

Tech credits are first-rate, particularly the work of shooters Roger Chapman, Tony Coldwell, Michael Timney and Wayne Vinten.

Climate of Change


  • Production: A Tribeca Film (in U.S.) release, presented in association with American Express, Participant Media and the Alliance for Climate Protection, of a Century Films production. Produced by Katie Bailiff. Executive producers, Kevin Wall, Kit Hawkins. Directed by Brian Hill. Written by Simon Armitage.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Roger Chapman, Tony Coldwell, Michael Timney, Wayne Vinten; editor, Stuart Briggs; music, Nitin Sawhney; associate producers, Jeanette Bell, Tom Pearson. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Center, New York, April 11, 2010. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Encounters.) Running time: 86 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Larry Gibson, Maria Gunnoe, Judy Bonds, Solitaire Townsend, Sep Galeva, Sena Alouka. Narrator: Tilda Swinton.
  • Music By: