In her new documentary, Jennifer Abbott draws a moving personal parallel between two kinds of grief: the loss of her sister and the imminent loss of all that we hold dear due to climate change. Brave and painful, the film explores our emotional response to situations too vast to grasp.
The film opens in a forest. It’s like an enchanted forest. We see fragile tendrils of green reaching up from the forest floor. Snowflakes drift downwards in the dappled sunlight. It’s a peaceful scene. But then we find out that it’s not snow, but ash from a distant forest fire. “I will never forget the day,” we hear Abbott say.
Soon we learn of other days that she will not forget. Days spent running and laughing among tall pines with her sister Saille in an idyllic Canadian childhood in Ontario’s Georgian Bay. And then there’s the day of her sister’s cancer diagnosis. It’s terminal.
If this sounds grim, it is. And it isn’t. Abbott doesn’t sugar-coat things. That doesn’t help, she learns from her sister. And from Extinction Rebellion in London. From Greta Thunberg in Stockholm. From forest-fire survivors in the Australian bush. And from Indigenous activists in the Amazon. What helps is to tell the truth. And face up to it. Even if that’s the last thing you want to do. The scariest thing.
“Perhaps the most visceral reasoned call to action for humanity since An Inconvenient Truth”
Tammy Bannister, Vancouver International Film Festival Programmer
So how to respond to what is coming? Are we to get angry? Go into denial? Curl up in despair? Or allow ourselves a moment to grieve? Because of all our emotions, grief is perhaps the hardest to come to terms with.
Yet the film shows that grief can also be something that binds us as we all struggle to adapt to a changing planet and uncertain future. It can become a driving force. We see how, after nearly losing her home to raging fires, Jo Dodds holds the Prime Minister of Australia to account for climate policy inaction in a video message that ends up going viral. She has since gone on to become president of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action.
Interweaving these personal accounts with childhood memories and her sister’s last letters, Abbott searches for a way forward. “Because of you, I let grief in,” she says, ultimately finding strength in her sister’s changing perspective on life and all that it can be as it draws to an end.
In facing the magnitude of her sister’s death and the climate crisis, as well as hearing the stories of those already living with its effects, Abbott comes to a crucial discovery: “Hope is not in the future. Hope is in this moment. What I choose to do now.” The message is empowering and the call to action rings true, intimate and urgent.
‘The Magnitude of All Things’ features at this year’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, with films and events screening live and online until 6 December.
What can you do now? Here are 5 tips from the makers of the film:
- Fire yourself up. Turn your grief about climate change into action.
- Flood your government, MPs and others to force decisions around climate action.
- Dry up funding to those who are contributing negatively.
- Turn up the heat on policy makers.
- Rise up together in solidarity to help create system change.