Climate change is scary. There’s no way to mince words with this one. We’re constantly being bludgeoned with articles and news headlines and cynical documentaries about how the end is nigh. It’s overwhelming—but there’s still hope.
Award winning Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau shares his hope with us in the optimistic, but not unrealistic documentary 2040. It’s rare to find climate-focused films that aren’t completely devoid of hope, but those that do often propose hypothetical solutions that would cost billions of dollars and require outlandish inventions. What sets 2040 apart from the myriad of other doomsday documentaries is that Gameau’s proposed solutions are ideas and inventions that already exist in the world today. No false promises or far fetched ideas. He calls it “fact-based dreaming.”
The film opens with Gameau introducing his wife Zoe and their four-year-old daughter Velvet as he wanders through his house. He explains to the camera that Velvet is still young enough that one day she’ll have to leave what he calls her ‘happy bubble’ and face the fact that the planet is rapidly deteriorating. The film is presented as a letter to Velvet, promising her a better future.
The film cuts back and forth between 2019 and an imagined 2040, where Eva Lazzaro appears as the Velvet of the future. In 2019, Gameau travels to various locations to explore ideas of how future technology might mitigate climate change. In 2040, future Velvet uses those technologies in her own home, giving audiences a realistic look into what the future could look like if we implemented those solutions.
Oftentimes the media paints technology as something that is malicious and will inevitably destroy the planet (Black Mirror, Westworld, Silicon Valley) rather than something that can be used to our advantage to repair it. Gameau’s imagined future blends technology with nature, envisioning solar-absorbing windows and rooftop gardens. He suggests replacing individually owned vehicles with on demand self driving cars, and using the unused parking lots and road space as urban agriculture hubs.
The documentary makes stunning use of visual effects, as experts (such as Dr. Kate Raworth, Tony Seba, Pawl Hawken and more) pop up to narrate to the camera. Miniature versions of them narrate over future Velvet, perched on countertops like a helpful imaginary friend. The film stays engaging with its simple language, fast pace, and straightforward statistics, making it accessible to younger audiences as well. Gameau opens the freezer to reveal melting polar ice caps, and when he explains heat being trapped in the ocean, he overlooks a miniature sea inside his bathtub. It’s certainly not a comedy, but the witty humor serves to lighten the mood in times where it would otherwise be bleak. The jokes flow well with the rest of the dialogue. Nothing about it feels forced.
The film shies away from harsh language often used in other climate change documentaries, such as ‘mass extinction’ or ‘climate crisis’. While in most cases the optimism would be seen as overly idealistic, it works well with the hopeful nature of the film. Many people refuse to make the changes necessary to save the planet because they lack that hope. People are starting to give up. 2040 gets its message across brilliantly, mobilizing people without scaring them. The solutions are here. It’s not too late. And if we get it together and act now, hopefully we can implement them before it is.
2040 is screening virtually by The Grand Cinema. For event information see here.