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(Following its world premiere at Berlinale 2019, Together Films has released 2040, one of the highest grossing Australian documentaries of all time, online. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

Worried about climate change, among other pressing existential concerns? Most immediately on our radar are the challenges posed by the COVID-19 epidemic, the rising tide of authoritarianism in the USA and elsewhere, and the violence erupting (mostly on the part of agitators and police) in the wake of peaceful protests against America’s racist police actions, but the state of the environment looms large and frightening on the very near horizon. What is one to do, beyond scream in agony at the hopelessness of it all? Even if we solve our current political and medical crises, what will it matter if the world as we know it comes to an effective end?

There are certainly no shortage of recent films to remind us of our plight and our duties to resolve it, including Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans, Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise, Deia Schlosberg’s The Story of Plastic and many, many more. Those are all excellent works, but can leave the viewer in a depressed state by the end. Not so 2040, the new documentary from director Damon Gameau (That Sugar Film), which takes a delightfully playful approach to the subject. We may be going down as a species, but let’s at least have some fun with it.

Gameau not only helms the movie, but stars in it, as well, as our host and guide through a series of what he calls “fact-based dreams,” whereby he imagines what the future of his 4-year-old daughter, Violet, will look like when she turns 25, in 2040. Using fanciful animations, graphics and staged scenes, Gameau places himself and his talking-head experts not only at the heart of the story, but embedded within composited images that illuminate his main points with humor, rather than despair (full kudos to his visual-effects team, who do an amazing job).

Indeed, he starts the documentary with a very specific charge to do something different than the usual, imagining how we can solve our problems, rather than dwelling on the problems, themselves (since, as he acknowledges, others have already done so quite well). He leaps forward to tomorrow on the springboard of today’s technologies, projecting the possibilities of that which is already within our grasp, would we but seize it. These include community microgrids of solar panels to generate local electricity, autonomous electric vehicles, marine permaculture and more. And jet boots.

Actually, that would be a no on the boots, but the idea for them is floated by one member of Gameau’s most exciting panel of would-be experts: young children just barely older than Violet (most of whose suggestions are far more practical). Along with these budding scientists are more established folks like Paul Hawken (an environmentalist), Helena Norberg-Hodge (filmmaker, The Economics of Happiness), Kate Raworth (author, Doughnut Economics), Tony Seba (of RethinkX) and Brian Von Herzen (of The Climate Foundation). They cover the topics from a variety of perspectives, all of which point to our need to act now.

Nicely complementing the jaunty tone is the beautiful cinematography. Each image is artfully designed, with the narrative presented in an overall cheery palette. As a result, the film could run the risk of minimizing the dangers ahead, but instead this approach results in a fully engaging mise-en-scène that keeps us watching, waiting to see what innovative technique Gameau employs next. Let’s hope he’s right to be so optimistic, as the real 2040 is not that far away…

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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