Review: How To Change The World – The mind bomb that kick-started Greenpeace

Mark Reynolds 

This documentary about Greenpeace is a celebration of the art of campaigning in the cause of the planet, a fascinating portrait of human heroics and frailties, and a call to arms for focused outrage.

In 1971, journalist Bob Hunter and a ragtag band of hippies, scientists, musicians, mechanics and draft dodgers chartered a rust-bucket fishing boat in Vancouver.

Their aim was to sail into President Nixon’s nuclear test zone around the remote Alaskan island of Amchitka and put a stop to the blasts. Although they were forced back by the US Coastguard, the crew of the ‘Greenpeace’ became a global news story, and their action the template for a new kind of environmental activism.

Hunter’s big idea, borrowing the effective tactics of the peace and civil rights movements, was the ‘mind bomb': a highly visual story to capture the world’s imagination and change public opinion and government policy on ecological issues.

Among the early campaigns captured here on archive film are bold and harrowing confrontations with a Russian whaling fleet and Norwegian sealers. Hunter and his crew go out in dinghies to put themselves between the harpoon and the whale, and stand in front of an Arctic icebreaker to prevent it from moving on to the next bloody cull.

This footage is interspersed by interviews with the members of those early missions—one of whom, it turns out, now lobbies against Greenpeace actions on behalf of business clients—along with a witty and rueful narration based on Hunter’s writings.

As environmental concerns went mainstream, Greenpeace offices opened all over the world in a decidedly loose web of eco-warriors. But the founders were dogged by rising debts and bitter internal arguments around fundraising, policy and stinging personality clashes.

Eight years after the Amchitka mission, Hunter and his close allies gave it all up so that others could build a coherent international network.

Hunter died aged 64 in 2005, but his daughter Emily is prominent in a new generation of writers, filmmakers and activists who will ensure his legacy lives on. This inspirational film is carefully crafted and neatly poised to give Greenpeace – and the earth – a welcome boost.

Nationwide advance screenings Wednesday 9 September, followed by a live satellite Q&A hosted by Mariella Frostrup with special guests including Jerry Rothwell, Emily Hunter and Vivienne Westwood.

General release Friday 11 September.