Why an Oscar-Winning Filmmaker Is Putting the Spotlight on Climate Change

by Katie Camosy

June 7, 2016

In “Time to Choose,” Charles Ferguson bypasses doomsday messaging to remind us that climate solutions aren’t just possible — they’re already here.

Solar Farm

Solar farm in Zhongwei, Ningxia Province, China. Still from "Time to Choose." Credit: "Time to Choose," Neo Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

I make videos for Greenpeace. Some of our videos are short; some of our videos are long. Some tell personal stories; some use statistics. Some celebrate environmental victories; some call attention to the battles we still need to fight and win.

None of them are designed to make you feel like climate change is an unsolvable challenge. And yet, sometimes when we explain the severity of the problems, we end up just plain bumming people out.

So when I heard that Oscar-winner Charles Ferguson was making a documentary that focused specifically on the solutions for climate change, I wanted to learn more.

Along with fellow Greenpeace climate communicator Ryan Schleeter, I hopped on the phone with Charles last week to talk about how he portrayed the story of the climate movement in his film “Time To Choose” and why he’s optimistic about our chances to prevent runaway climate change.

Wind Farm

Windmills in the Netherlands, still from “Time to Choose.” Credit: “Time to Choose,” Neo Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“What was correct was that it’s a serious problem and continuing to get worse. But what was incorrect was that there wasn’t anything we could do about it.”

Charles Ferguson, director, “Time to Choose”

Ryan: Your previous films focus on the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the 2008 financial crisis. Why did you pivot to climate change for this project?

Charles: Two or three years ago, I had not been following climate issues very carefully and I had various vague ideas — some of which turned out to be correct and some of which turned out to be very incorrect. What was correct was that it’s a serious problem and continuing to get worse. But what was incorrect was that there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

Ryan: I’m glad you mention that, because the film’s focus on solutions is one of the things that interested us. How did you decide on that approach?

Charles: Having been educated about the fact this was a solvable a problem — and if we did the things required to solve it we’d end up making the world a more prosperous place — that was a surprise. In fact, there were a number of big surprises.

John Amos Power Plant

The John Amos Power Plant, a coal-fired power plant in Winfield, West Virginia. Still from “Time to Choose.” Credit: “Time to Choose,” Neo Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Katie:  Climate change is a complex narrative. How did you approach it?

Charles: Well, I left a lot out of the film. We ended up avoiding some things that are truly important, but that are complicated and divisive. For example, there’s nothing in the film about biofuels, nuclear power, or fracking. It was difficult to make those choices, but I felt it was important to keep things relatively under control. It’s already a film about complicated issues.

Katie: Did you ever consider a different format than a feature film?

Charles: We haven’t made any decisions yet, but we’ve thought of things ranging from a series of short films on the web to art installations. We have a lot of footage that couldn’t fit in the film, some of which I think is really compelling, both interviews and location cinematography. We filmed 85 interviews and only about two dozen show up in the film, and it was very difficult to choose.

Katie: That’s awesome. We will keep a lookout!

“I hope that some people watching the film are CEOs of major corporations or mayors of cities and national leaders who can make some of these big choices themselves.”

Charles Ferguson, director, “Time to Choose”

Ryan: I’m also interested in what you think the impact of this film will be. What actions do you hope people will take after seeing “Time to Choose?”

Charles: Many actions! Which action depends on your place on our planet. The things you would or could do are different if you’re American versus Western Europeans, Kenyans, Brazilians, etc. and it’s also a function of your job and how you live. I hope that some people watching the film are CEOs of major corporations or mayors of cities and national leaders who can make some of these big choices themselves.

Katie: And what kind of response have you gotten so far?

Charles: I’ve been encouraged by what people have said and how they’ve responded to the film thus far. One of the people in the film — Peter Calthorpe — told me after we filmed his interview that the central government of China had decided to basically adopt all of his recommendations for future urban planning in China. So, that’s very important. Beyond that, a lot of people, especially younger people, have changed their diets and are eating less meat — I think that’s going to continue. And of course, I hope that there’s a greatly accelerated push to renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels.

“Of course, I hope that there’s a greatly accelerated push to renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels.”

Charles Ferguson, director, “Time to Choose”

Ryan: OK, I’m definitely here for all of that. We’ve got one last question for you.

Katie: Yes, if you could say one thing to Greenpeace supporters around the world, what it would it be?

Charles: Actually, congratulations and thank you. And I’m not just saying that.

Katie and Ryan: ????

Click here for more information on “Time to Choose” — including where to find a screening near you.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

By Katie Camosy

Katie Camosy is a senior video producer for Greenpeace USA.

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