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Revolution is Pre-Screened at University of Calgary

A Reflection on Rob Stewart's New Film

by Matt Hanson

Global Day of Action in Canada, photo: Bill Wrigley
Global Day of Action in Canada, photo: Bill Wrigley

 

I arrived at the University of Calgary today at noon to attend a recital of Baroque music by a friend studying violin. We soon found our way into the Native Center, which is truly the best kept secret at the university. Above the hustle-and-bustle of the McEwan Student Center food court, the Native Center is so quiet and calm you can literally hear the sound of a pindrop most hours of the day. Idle No More news headlines were newly posted beside ancient symbols of unity-in-diversity under the contemplative wisdom of eldership. There is complementary tea, and to muse on an old Irish proverb, "laugther is best where acceptance is broadest". As my two companions and I walked out, a pizza was being served to the delight of any and all. 

Next, I attended the farewell party of a dearly beloved peaceworker, Saima Jamal, to offer her a sincere gift of thanks for inviting me to interview Emmanuel Jal. Peacemaking colleagues and community members alike shared words of gratitude and appreciation for the many gifts bestowed by one of the most active employees of the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary, a fully public-funded initiative based on the peace activism of professor, scholar and writer George Melnyk. I had interviewed Professor Melnyk that afternoon for my independent work as a freelance journalist with the Media Co-op on the topics of literature and self-determination, Iran and Afghanistan, foreign policy and resource economics.

Outside of professor Melnyk's office, my eye scanned a bulletin board, as I often do to become aware of new events and prospects. Revolution hit me smack dab in the eye. The serendipity fell on me like a ton of bricks. I do not often visit the University of Calgary, as I live and work in downtown Calgary, though I remain a 2010 alumni no less. My article, Bans Work, published in The Dominion in February (2013) is mostly a result of an interview I did with Rob Stewart via phone, yet there was still one burning question I had failed to ask.  

After a classical guitar recital, I excitedly entered the theatre. Before the film began, the audience was told that Rob Stewart was on his way over to do a post-screening Q&A with us. I was thrilled, and this only added an extra dimension of significance to my coincidental presence at the screening. 

The film screened: Revolution. Expertly photographed, with Rob Stewart himself at the helm of the cinematography. This is an important documentary that gives unfiltered voice and expedient agency to the voice of youth all around the world.  Felix Finkbeiner and a young Lebanese woman (I'm unable to remember her name) were two among many who brought me to such wellsprings of emotion as I have never felt. The grandchildren of the world are fighting for the survival of their grandchildren. As Rob Stewart told me in my February interview with him: 

In the past the people affected by a destructive culture were the ones who moved to resolve it, for slavery it was the blacks, for women’s suffrage it was women. Now, youth are facing the greatest social challenge. Youth have not drunk the Kool-Aid so to speak, they don’t rationalize they just do what needs to be done. We are eating their future.

The striking beauty of the cinematography featured in this film is a testament to the way in which Rob Stewart and many others featured in this film might view the ocean: with such vivid and lucid beauty. The ocean is the lifeblood of all life on Earth.

Revolution brings into a very clear focus, as clear as possible, the incredible efficacy of the multi-tiered project of global awareness, whether from the leading environmental scientists, or public demonstrations, everyone has an integral role to play in the fight for human survival on this gorgeous planet. We can change, because we are changing. The question is not whether or not we should change, the question is, what direction to we want to go in?

Canada, and more specifically Alberta, is home to the most destructive industrial resource project on Earth, the Tar Sands. It is no wonder Rob Stewart chose Alberta as a focus-group to pre-screen his film, as Alberta is exactly where the change in direction needs to occur. As the "godfather" of coral and former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Charlie Veron, said in the film: the only way to that we can avoid increased ocean acidification, which is the cause of most major extinctions in the history of life on planet Earth, is to stop burning fossil fuels. Canada, home to Greenpeace and other environmentally-savvy networks, has been the recipient of the Fossil Award, given to the nation which has most hindered global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, 5 years in a row. As another remarked in the film, we feel that the atmosphere is a place where we can dump any waste or toxic by-product, without any repercussions.

Through an insightful look at sharks, flamboyant cuttlefish, and the Canadian lynx, Rob Stewart takes us on a narrative journey into the depths and heights of evolutionary progress, and how the will to live is our greatest asset as inheritors of the great and mysterious onus called life in this universe. We must realize that our responsibility as living beings is to reciprocate, or we will get exactly what is coming, without exception, regardless of our being a singular species of unrivalled capacity, we are not invincible to extinction. In fact, we are especially vulnerable to extinction as large mammals. 

Soon there will be 7 billion people on Earth, yet non-renewable resources are consumed exponentially. Canada has no energy policy. During a conversation before the screening with George Melnyk, professor of literature, film and Western Canadian identity at University of Calgary, he said:  

I'm in my sixties, and I've spent most of my life in Canada under Liberal federal governments. Since 2006, under the minority Harper government and now the majority Harper government, so we're talking like seven years, we have moved much more clearly towards a partisan position, meaning that we support a group of nations, a group of people that want to act a certain way in the world, we don't want to stand away from that a little bit, right? So that balance being partisan and trying to be non-partisan, that has now disappeared. We're very military-oriented. The experience in Afghanistan has been completely wasted.

An increasing number of people bear the brunt of starvation, while trillions are spent to wage what is fast becoming the longest war in modern history (Afghanistan) and bail out indebted banks. We have continue to raise the bar of economic growth in the name of progress, development, modernity, etc., to the great disaffection of the global majority, who are increasingly marginalized by the few in positions of power, wealth and control. "The scientists have done their job, now it's time for the politicians to do theirs," says an interviewee in Revolution.

Ultimately, this is a film that asks the question: can we shift our way of life towards sustainability or do we want to destroy all life on earth? We don't have to have a nuclear winter to devastate all life on earth. The explosion of the atom bomb was symbolic of our power, a power which unfortunately is not solely derived from the bomb itself. If nuclear energy provides only about 5% of the world's energy, and is simultaneously linked to the most destructive military technology, how much more destructive is the energy that provides for the 95%? 

At the end of the film, Rob Stewart told us about the many awards the film has already received, he was glowing with optimism. Revolution is due to appear on more screens than any other documentary in Canadian history. One hand raised came down to a more pessimistic tune. To that, Stewart simply responded that it is usually the people who are not doing anything who are pessimistic, the people who are actually involved in helping to make positive change are optimistic.

For the last question, my hand went up like lightning. He took my question; what I had been waiting to ask for months since our private phone conversation would see the light of day in front of a full crowd at the university theatre: 

"What is the biggest thing that makes you optimistic every day?" I asked. I remembered the way I felt after I first spoke to Stewart; crushing powerlessness. He responded something to the tune of: What makes me optimistic everyday is observing life itself, and how life has survived. I think that especially now when we are bombarded by overconsumptive habits in the use of technology, finding meaning in helping to save ourselves and the Earth is the greatest source of fulfillment that we need right now.

To me, Rob Stewart is one of those urgent and immediate storytellers, who tells the story of us all from his own heart with a sharp tongue and visionary eye.

May we all listen, and carry the vision forth into a world where our grandchildren might live to remember that we took up the greatest responsibility, which was to change our own selves, for their right to enjoy life in a way so rich with living that we could never fathom.

Revolution opens in theatres everywhere April 12. 

Thank you Rob Stewart. Much success is due.  


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