SXSW Film

Daily reviews and interviews

SXSW Film
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Climate Control: 'Call of the Hummingbird' and 'Everything's Cool'

It's hard to imagine why you'd need to see another global-warming documentary when An Inconvenient Truth has delivered the message so definitively. But Everything's Cool and Call of the Hummingbird tell entirely different sides of the story. There are no CO2 graphs in Everything's Cool, nor are there exhortations to change your lifestyle or write your legislator. Instead, the film tells the fascinating story of this message itself, starting with NASA's James Hansen, whose 1988 Senate testimony first introduced "global warming" to our lexicon. Call of the Hummingbird, on the other hand, focuses on those who have gotten the message already and simply must figure out what to do with it.

When filmmakers Daniel Gold and Judith Helfand began work on Everything's Cool (15 years after Hansen's testimony), global warming still ranked dead dead last as an election issue despite overwhelming consensus in the scientific community. Gold and Helfand wanted to know why, so they set out to make a film exploring this "gap between what scientists know and what the public understands."

Their exploration takes them to Ross Gelbspan, the first investigative journalist to focus on global warming, and Rick Piltz, the whistle-blower who brought to national attention government censorship of climate-research findings. It takes them to PR strategists who criticize environmentalists' doom-and-gloom message and to global-warming skeptics funded by the coal and oil industries. And it takes them to a ski resort where rising temperatures threaten snow-makers' jobs and to an Alaskan village that's falling into the sea as the ground melts underneath it and the coastline erodes.

SXSW Film
Photo By John Anderson

All of this alone makes for compelling documentary. But what really makes this film significant is its unique perspective on the surprising shift in public perception that has transformed global warming from a fringe issue to a mainstream concern in just the last two years. Adapting the film to these changes, says Gold, was like "shooting a rifle from a moving truck." The result is a remarkable time capsule.

We see the airtime for Heidi Cullen, the Weather Channel's climate expert, increase from three to 30 minutes in a post-Katrina world. We see the press asking tougher questions of the leading global-warming skeptics. And we see Gelbspan go dejectedly into retirement, only to bounce right back out again.

Of course, we also see Gelbspan watching the news, where a poll reveals that 64% of the American public still thinks scientists disagree about global warming, so Everything's Cool is not exactly a story of victory. But it's the story of why victory has been so elusive, a question that will inevitably dominate the discussion as snow-makers, Alaskan villagers, and hurricane victims relegate the global warming "debate" to a fading memory.

In some places, the debate is already a fading memory, and filmmaker Alice Klein found one of them in Brazil, where 900 people came together in 2005 for Call of the Hummingbird, a 13-day educational camp exploring methods of sustainable living. The event appears to be a kind of Phish concert without the Phish or the concert, complete with lots of topless and bottomless dancing hippies. But in actuality it's more like a conference minus the conference center, attracting "food activists and Rastas, Mayan calendar followers and bio-regionalists, open-source software geeks, and student activists" from 42 countries.

The gathering merges two divergent sides of the eco-community – the practical side (like the permaculturalists) and its more spiritual counterpart (the topless dancing people) – with mixed results. The waste-management experts end up sorting through other people's trash in an effort to do away with it responsibly, and late-night parties lead to unattended morning meetings. Call of the Hummingbird tells the story of how this disparate group gets its act together.

"Ecology is not only a subject of science, but it's also about human culture," Klein explains. "We have to get to a point where we're really enjoying what we're doing. ... You can see in the movie a lot of joy going on, though there's a lot of drudge work." Klein, who has a long background in covering political activism as editor and co-founder of Toronto alt-weekly NOW Magazine, felt that Hummingbird offered a unique chance to document a "discussion that's much more developed in Mexico and South America than here." That discussion, it turns out, makes a compelling case for the role of the modern hippie.


Call of the Hummingbird: 11am, Austin Convention Center

Everything's Cool: 6:30pm, Austin Convention Center

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