Berlin Hidden Gem: Climate Change Meets Child-like Optimism in '2040'

Courtesy of Berlinale
Gameau's doc is intended to be a "visual letter" to his four-year-old daughter.

Director Damon Gameau's environmental doc asks children to weigh in with some encouragingly hopeful suggestions for combating global warming.

Even from a quick glimpse at the teaser, it’s clear there’s something markedly different about 2040 than other environmentally focused documentaries. That essential difference soon becomes immediately apparent: optimism. Whereas most films touching on mankind’s not-exactly-stellar impact on Earth have illustrated how and why we’ve got about enough time to tweet a sad face emoji before the world ends, Damon Gameau presents a more hopeful alternative. As the Australian filmmaker says, it’s basically a “future that doesn’t have to be Blade Runner.”

Arranged as a visual letter to his 4-year-old daughter, 2040 — Gameau’s follow up to 2014’s sucrose-assaulting That Sugar Film and having its world premiere in Berlin on Feb. 11 — travels the globe, asking more than 100 children between the ages of 8 and 11 how they hope the world will look in 21 years, and exploring solutions currently in development that, if pushed into the mainstream, could help make this vision a reality.

“The kids actually drive the narrative,” he says. “Rather than me searching for solutions of my own volition I’m informed by what they came up with, be that deforestation or solar or cars or whatever it was.”

Among the potential planet fixers highlighted in 2040 is a natural biological solution being developed in Massachusetts that uses seaweed to help regenerate the oceans, bringing cooler water up from below to counteract the damaging impact of global warming.

“By doing that they’ve found that the fish are returning, the acidity of the water is changing and also that the seaweed can be used for biofuels and fibres,” Gameau says, adding that the project has already successfully installed several large prototypes. “I just want to show what the world would look like in 2040 if we have these things floating around the ocean.”

Gameau hopes the positive approach of 2040 will help sideline the somewhat overwhelming environmental narrative of doom, gloom and inescapable catastrophe from the media, and stop humanity from marching headfirst into a nightmarish dystopia.

“We all know that’s a possibility and we see it every day, but I just wanted to remind people that there is another way, that there are people doing incredible things,” he says.

Following its Berlin bow, Gameau has enough funding in place for a large outreach campaign, to keep creating content under the film’s positive umbrella and to take the film around the globe and — hopefully — get a debate going.

“If we do want to move to a better world, we at least have to see it and start discussing it,” he says, ever the optimist.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 9 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.