Rob Stewart’s new film, Revolution, charts a new chapter in the life of the activist filmmaker whose first film, Sharkwater, challenged the slaughter of sharks for their fins.
At the Hong Kong screening of that film, a young woman thanked him for bringing the film to China, the world’s largest source of demand for shark fins, and then asked whether it mattered, since there would be no fish in the oceans by 2048.
Stewart does something wonderful. He invites the audience into a state of wonder and mystery, sharing the beauty of the ocean’s diverse and astonishing life— coral reefs, pygmy seahorses and the wonderfully named flamboyant cuttlefish. And out of that sense of beauty, mystery and wonder, he draws us into awareness of threats to that beauty through the acidification of the oceans, finally reminding us that when oceans shut down, the planet pretty much shuts down, too.
I went to see this film out of a sense of duty. I went because I know this stuff matters. I drove to see it (and subsequently asked a friend to drive to my office with a review copy of the DVD). That is to say, I went with all the ambivalence that most of us share when it comes to matters of creation and its well-being. We care, we know it matters, and we’re either embarrassed or defensive about how deeply we are implicated as part of the problem.
Revolution isn’t looking for purity, though. It’s looking for change, and starting with a sense of wonder and beauty doesn’t hurt. The film tells a frightening story, a story that will make many of us uncomfortable and some of us angry. One commentator tells us that the acidification of the oceans threatens not only life in the oceans but terrestrial life as well (half of the planet’s oxygen is generated by phytoplankton). A very articulate young person at the Cancun UN Climate Change conference says, “You’ve been negotiating my whole life.”
We learn that over the past 25 years, 38 per cent of the coral of the Great Barrier Reef and 90 per cent of that in the Caribbean has died. We are asked to consider the wisdom of treating the atmosphere as “an unregulated dumping ground for whatever anybody wants to put there.” The film is highly critical of the development of the oil sands, but doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook for the 350 million cars that need to start tomorrow morning.
“Starving people will fish the last fish and burn the last forest for food,” the narrator reminds us, and suddenly the sense emerges that we are all in this together, and that we are being asked to do more than regulate our behaviour as consumers. We are being asked to take up our responsibility as citizens.
And that’s where I think we as Anglican Christians might intersect with Revolution.
The first “citizens” received a mandate to look after the garden, and there is mounting evidence that we ignore that mandate at our own peril. I think that’s why I was so glad that the film starts with wonder and beauty. It is as if the film begins with an illustrated pageant of why the Creator sees, at every day’s end of creation, that it is good. What follows might start more than one conversation—in a church basement, youth group or parish council— about how we might work together to make it possible for the Creator to say that about the work of this day, work that we do as God’s partners now, living with care in the rich mystery of beauty and wonder that supports us.
The Ven. Dr. Michael Thompson is general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada.