How films can make an impact on big issues
The caramel tones of the voice of the nation’s honorary grandfather have made for powerful TV for as long as most of the Tusko team have been alive. So when Sir David Attenborough directly addressed the viewing millions in the final episode of Planet Earth II, his call to action about the plastic choking the world’s oceans hit a collective nerve.
He has since said he’s been “astonished” by the public response to the plastic problem the series pinpointed, seeing a shift in attitude among consumers, businesses and even government, potentially signalling a light at the end of a very long plastic tube.
But while the rich production values of the BBC’s Planet Earth II tugged at the heartstrings of the British public, some have questioned whether its portrayal of the problem was punchy enough. When 95% of all marine litter is made of plastic, it’s going to take a hard-hitting tidal wave to change this man-made problem.
Raw TV have made a 90-minute documentary that focuses on the scale of the problem. The London-based production company, who make films for a variety of channels including the BBC, Discovery and Channel 4, sent biologist Liz Bonnin around the world to track a potential environmental disaster in Drowning in Plastic.
Check out the trailer for Drowning in Plastic here. It’s a powerful, eye-opening exposé of an enormous problem. The seasoned nature presenter is sometimes lost for words as she joins researchers, engineers and residents in plastic-clogged areas, occasionally just muttering ‘oh my god’. She’s even moved to tears.
Streaming giant Netflix are also on the case when it comes to our impact on the planet. They’ve teamed up with WWF and production company Silverback Films to create the eight-part series Our Planet, hitting our television screens in 2019.
Filmed over four years, the ambitious project visits remote areas and tracks the wildlife at the most risk from industrial human activity.
Several eco-based advertising campaigns have used clever techniques to grab a passing viewer’s interest. This excellent advert for the Sumatran Orangutan Society features displaced characters from Disney classic ‘The Jungle Book’, now living in an urban jungle. By superimposing animation and CCTV footage, the ad plays on the naivety of our childhood, reminding us that these are very real problems with very real consequences.
Similarly, this incredibly simple and effective advert for WWF is a close up shot of ice cubes melting in a glass. “If you know what’s coming...” it warns, as the glass overflows, “act now to stop the effects of climate change”.
Film is a powerful medium that conveys a complex message. Getting out of old habits isn’t easy, or we’d have done it already. In the case of plastic, as individuals we’re sometimes unsure of the impact we can have by ourselves.
But it is possible to change minds, and practices, using film. Fishing documentary The End of The Line inspired enormous change in our understanding of how we catch and consume fish, and in the face of a public backlash, restaurants and supermarkets changed their policies.
“These films work best when there's already a tide in your favour, when the public are subconsciously aware of an issue but not concentrating on it,” the film’s executive producer Chris Hird told the Guardian.
We want to know what you guys think.
They say a picture says a thousand words, so perhaps film can shout them. How much power does film have to change public perception? Can a documentary really change hearts and minds? We believe so.
And if even Sir David Attenborough can be surprised by his positive impact, there’s hope for us all.