If you told your friends that you were going to take a trip to Alaska from Vancouver, they might be excited for you.  If you added that it was to stop a nuclear explosion, they might rightly assume you were crazy, exaggerating, or a member of Greenpeace.

In 1971, that’s exactly how Greenpeace – the internationally known conservation and activist organization – got started.  HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD, directed by Jerry Rothwell, chronicles this beginning and the harrowing feats necessary to take the smallest, but most important, first steps toward changing the world of the 1970s.  Bob Hunter, one of the founders, described being in “the right place at the right time with the right people” took a boat to “bear witness” to the terrible destruction that was likely to be caused by exploding an atomic bomb on an island in the Aleutian change.

This was a big push, not long after the first Earth Day, to link the peace movement with the environmental movement.  I’d like to say they were terrifically successful and everyone joined hands and saved the world, but that’s what would happen in a blockbuster, not a documentary.

This event did cement the drive and goals of Greenpeace, however.  They started to create “mind bombs” – which today would mean their idea went viral – that made it clear to the world there were things we didn’t know, and probably had never wanted to know.  One of the first really big efforts that Greenpeace made was to stop (or attempt to stop) the killing of whales, particularly off the coast of California by Russian whaling ships.  This is where the film is not for the faint of heart – but nothing worth doing really is.

Watching these men in a fishing boat attempt to stop a floating factory that was shooting and processing whales at sea is just about as nail-biting as any blockbuster.

The film doesn’t glorify Greenpeace, nor its founders, but it does show footage of what they did, and interviews with them today about why they did it.  As with any group that does something great with a mixed group, there will be disagreements about how to move forward and to what end.  They inspired groups just like them, and grew into an international organization that still raises controversy and makes people aware of what’s going on around them.

If any long journey begins with a single step, watching this film should be what you do to inform the direction that step could go.
HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD plays at Hot Docs 2015 tomorrow, Sunday April 26th – 1pm at The Bloor. It plays again at The Bloor on Monday April 27th – 9:30pm (official website)