IIt’s shortly after 6pm on Monday afternoon in the small town of Batemans Bay, on the South Coast of New South Wales, and as is the case most nights of the week – particularly rainy, prematurely dark like this – the main shopping area empties quickly. Few people remain, pushing loaded carts down the ramp outside the supermarket in a hurry to return home. However, outside a small cinema above a shopping mall, a procession of headlights heads for the car park.
Standing at the entrance to the Perry Street cinema, director Damon Gameau greets a number of people who are filtering to see his new film, Regenerating Australia. An out-of-town, Gameau does not fully understand what an unusual sight this is – the event is sold out – but says it was so in the show last night in the southern highlands of Bowral, along with a dozen or so peripheral Victorian towns it has also shot the movie. The film will continue its national screening until mid-May.
“There is just this thirst for an optimistic story,” he says. “And the legally muscular, not a utopian fantasy, but a sense of a vision of what we could fight for.”
Gameau’s filmmaking style brings together the incredible companions of the catastrophic climate crisis and hope. The documentary of 2019 2040, framed as a letter to his four-year-old daughter, he explores various solutions to climate mitigation and envisions the positive scenarios he believes could emerge if these things are developed on a scale. The answer – Gameau says the crowdfunding of the works began and two million copies of the educational material produced by the film were downloaded – convinced him that optimism is more motivation than gloom.
“If you’re going to sound the fire alarm, you have to show people where the exits are,” he says. “And there are not enough narratives to show these exits.”
Inside the cinema, attendees cover all ages, from school-age children to gray-headed. There is a local doctor, an oyster farmer and members of various local community groups. A dance troupe from the Walbunja locals of the Yuin Nation plays Wand while greeting the audience in Dhurga, a blonde girl licking a chuck top shouts “Wallawani” and pushes her hand in the air.
Before the screening of the film, Gameau talks about his vision, how “in order to achieve sustainability we must be reborn”. As he speaks, they shout “eeeee!” and “boom!” come from the crowd, the audience gives the impression that they are not so thirsty for what they have to say, but are completely starving. This is a community particularly adapted to the reality of the climate crisis – the 2019-2020 fires came just a few hundred meters from the cinema, hundreds of houses in neighboring suburbs were lost and many more houses are exposed to coastal flooding.
The film takes place in December 2029. A hybrid of plate and documentary, it takes the form of a television news bulletin, looking back at a decade where the sovereignty of the First Nations is recognized, a federal anti-corruption commission is set up and Australia is in a state of flux. . The economy is booming as Australia uses 90% renewable energy and exports green steel. Individual communities have energy security and cheap energy from their own microgrids. Tenants reduce their electricity bills by renting solar panels from other roofs. and electric vehicle owners earn cash by using their batteries as storage for the grid.
Then, in sessions Q and A, it becomes clear that many ideas in a similar vein are already happening here: a massive solar market, algae farming and a “repair coffee” to encourage the recycling of household products.
Gameau is excited about the basics of this type of activity. “Look at the proponents of abolition, look at the human rights movement, it was all done by communities or groups of people who came together,” he said. “We need to teach our leaders how to lead.”
However, as a local, a man who lost his home in the fires and is now a climate activist, points out to the crowd, there is also a possible shortcut. Although there are some “great ideas and energy in the room,” he says, “in the coming weeks we can make it a lot easier; the most effective thing we can do with our time in the coming weeks is to send letters; not for the political parties, but to persuade local voters to prioritize the climate and think about the future they want when they vote. “
Gameau believes that this basis of determination to act on the climate crisis he sees in communities is relentless – driven by deteriorating weather. Has noticed this interest in 2040 peaks whenever a natural disaster occurs.
Gameau also feels this push. His home, now home to his wife and daughters, is on the North Rivers, where floods have decimated communities and, even when the film is playing in Batemans Bay, a new evacuation warning is coming for Lismore.
“We all had some very emotional days; my wife was really at the forefront of this,” he says. “Obviously I spend so much time in this area and he is very optimistic, but I still have days when I feel the reality of where we are.” He says that after the first floods in Lismore, he was on a plane when he heard the news about the record heatwave in Antarctica – with temperatures almost 40 degrees above average – and “burst into tears”.
While Gameau understands the devastating effects of these climate changes, as a narrator, he wants to continue to lean toward – in the words of American essayist Rebecca Solnit – to find “hope in the dark.”
“I think we’re losing a lot of people from nihilism, or they’re just tuning in and watching blockbusters and not doing it anymore, which is really dangerous,” he says.
Gameau draws inspiration from what is known as the paradoxical Stockdale – an idea inspired by the experience of U.S. Navy Admiral Jim Stockdale, who endured more than seven years in captivity during the Vietnam War. while accepting the brutal reality of his situation while maintaining a strong optimism.
“I think it’s so perfect right now,” says Gameau. “It’s this,” yes, do not be discouraged from reality. “It’s gloomy.” “But let’s also focus on all the exciting things we could do, because I think we need to be reborn independently.”
As the Batemans Bay event ends, a woman walks out of the cinema and stretches out her hands in the night sky. “God. I needed it so badly,” he says of the film. in his hand, he politely tells everyone that they must leave now, as the last light goes out.
“I bet you don’t have to do that when people come to see Batman,” Gameau jokes, and the movie owner smiles and agrees.