How to Change the World – Review ****

Soviet Whaling Action in North Pacific

The director Jerry Rothwell exceeds himself in his latest documentary How to Change the World. It explores the origins of the environmental movement and Greenpeace through the pioneering stories of its founders. Structured around the writings of its main protagonist Bob Hunter, the film crafts a tight story on how a small group of 70’s hippie idealists changed the parameters of protest movements forever and started a revolution.

The film takes us on Greenpeace’s anarchic first skirmishes; from stopping a nuclear test, to a quest to save the sperm whale and later to broader and more complex environmental issues. We follow their initial formative death-defying attempts to create ‘mindbombs’ (iconic images such as protesters blocking whaling ships) go ‘viral’ and change hearts and minds. In doing so they created the green revolution and managed to achieve what activists had not managed to do before them: to make wide audiences ‘feel’ for the ecological problems of our planet and, in doing so, to change them from a niche cause to a politicians’ necessity. We are immersed from the outset as this carefully constructed film makes great use of Hunter’s writings (voiced by Barry Pepper), archive, animation and interviews.

Bob Hunter on left at the helm of the Phyllis Cormack together with Ben Metcalfe. En route to Amchitka. (Greenpeace Witness book page 94) (The Greenpeace story book page 12 similar).

Most importantly the story is based on a wealth of stunning found footage as the pioneers of Greenpeace filmed as much as they possibly could. The result is that we don’t notice the classic ‘talking head’ and archive montage set up that historical documentaries rely on. Instead Rothwell lets us watch fast paced found footage sequences that match the length of their fiction counterparts. What also mixes well and immerses us further in the the story is the stirring soundtrack from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Country Joe and the Fish.


2hrs in the company of do-gooding hippies may not sound like an ideal cinematic voyage, but such is the strength of the film as they engage us with their uncompromising ideals and attempts to save the world. Watch this film and you’ll be hooked from the start; you’ll not be disappointed in feeling inspired by the movement’s young pioneers, enthralled by their journey and fascinated in what they achieved.

How To Change The World is released in select cinemas from September 2015. For more information about your local screening visit

Tom Colvile is a filmmaker finding his voice by blending all that he can in documentary, drama and music videos.