Having grown tired of doom-and-gloom documentaries, filmmakers Jordan Osmond and Antoinette Wilson began making films that would not just inspire, but inspire climate action. They’ll be showing their latest, Living the Change, at the Environmental Film Festival Australia, in Melbourne this October.
Growing up in Ballarat, Jordan Osmond watched a lot of documentaries, and naturally found himself becoming increasingly aware of (and interested in) many of the gigantic, complex problems facing the world.
The only trouble was that he had no idea what to do about any of it.
Most of the documentaries he’d watched didn’t cover that stuff. And so, as a teenager, he began turning a passion for photography into a passion for filmmaking. “I wanted to make films that might help influence change,” he says, speaking over the phone. “That was the driving factor.”
Self-taught since day one – via a combination of YouTube tutorials and books – Jordan’s first film, A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity, now has over a million views on YouTube. During filming, he met Antoinette Wilson, a writer and filmmaker from New Zealand, and the duo founded their own film production company, Happen Films. The duo’s latest feature-length documentary, Living the Change, will be shown at the Environmental Film Festival Australia, in Melbourne this October.
Instead of highlighting the gigantic and complex environmental issues facing the world, Living the Change focuses on people doing something about it. It’s a collection of portraits – from those who try to live without waste for a whole year, to those who literally created a forest from nothing. Of course, we like that kind of stuff, so we gave Jordan a call to talk us through it.
Bank Australia: What made you want to start making documentaries?
Jordan Osmond: One of the things I noticed when I watched documentaries was that while I was being impacted by them in a lot of ways, they didn't make me change my behaviour. A lot of them made me feel a bit depressed about the state of things – like I couldn’t really do much. There was no sense of empowerment.
And that became a motivator for Living for Change?
Yes – we wanted to address the questions of what, we as individuals, can do in the face of these huge issues like climate change, ecological destruction and financial insecurity. How can we adapt our everyday lives to be more resilient in the face of these issues, but also contribute to creating a better world? And so the vision for this film was to find people who are actually living the change in their own lives. And we found some pretty amazing people over the course of that journey.
Can you talk about one or two or your favourite characters from Living the Change?
We loved every story that we captured, but there was one couple that we filmed that we found really inspiring. They’d been developing this food forest in a town called Riverton, in New Zealand, over the last 23 years. They’d bought this degraded piece of land, the cheapest block in town, and planted this forest on it that incorporates native trees, fruit trees, vines, and root crops.
They’re literally recreating the forest environment and letting nature take the lead – and they get a huge amount of food from it. You hear so much about how we’re ruining the environment, yet here’s this thing that just two people created, and it’ll outlive us all!
What do you want Living the Change to convey?
The stories in the film are quite broad. We cover growing food, but we also cover waste, energy, simple living, composting… There's a range of practices, and we just hope the audience will connect with one or two. If you watch the people who tried to live without rubbish for a year, and decide you want to give that a go, that’s great. Or maybe you might be inspired to put a couple of veggie patches in your backyard, or buy second-hand clothes, or drive less – all these things add up.
Your everyday, mundane choices make a difference. They might seem insignificant, but the state of the world right now is the collective outcome of individual actions. If people can feel empowered to make a difference, that would be the best outcome.
What prevents people from making changes or becoming more sustainably-minded?
It's definitely an education thing. If someone has no experience in growing food, for example, you might think it’s too much work. But I think once you actually have that experience of growing something, you realise it's worth the extra effort. You get exercise, you're outside, you might feel better, you get healthier food – I really think the benefits outweigh the cons for most of these things.
Over the few decades, society's been on a course of more convenience – “I want everything now!” It's all kind of geared towards convenience and less work, which comes at the cost of the environment and also, I think, individual satisfaction.
If all you do is buy everything, then you don't get the same sense of satisfaction or connectedness. I really think that's a big part of it, it's feeling connected to the processes that help you stay alive – where the food comes into your life, where it goes, you know? Once you develop a connection with these processes, it’s a really satisfying way to live.
And I know some of these things can be tricky for people. I'm 24. I'm not a single parent. I don't have a job that's 9-5, and I’m not working 50 hours a week. I'm in a good position to make these changes. But I think the key is just doing what you can. It all adds up.
What advice do you have for young filmmakers?
Don’t let not having the best gear or enough money prevent you from telling your story. There’s nothing worse than when a story doesn’t get told because someone didn’t have the right camera, or because they didn’t have enough money to go to film school.
There are so many resources online, so if you do feel like you can go the DIY route, I recommend it. It's really freeing. And with platforms like YouTube and Vimeo and funding sources through crowd funding and Patreon – it's possibly the best time in history to be a filmmaker. It's so accessible – anyone can pick up their camera and publish something.
Living the Change will be screened at Environmental Film Festival Australia, which runs from 11-19 October in Melbourne.
Happen Films is funded by donations. If you’d like to make a donation to help support their filmmaking efforts, head on over to happenfilms.com/donate.