• Claire Avisar

The Devil in the Details: A Film Review of “Not Without Us”

Photo from http://www.videoproject.com/

On June 1st 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States was to pull out of the Paris Peace Accord [1], a UN facilitated agreement that was signed in 2015 and which articulates global goals for fighting climate change. As the agreement once again overtook news headlines across the globe, the international community was reminded that climate change is prominent and a politically polarizing issue. Although the official stance of the United States remains unclear, what traditional media coverage and politicians continuously fail to acknowledge is the discrepancy between what “accord” means on paper and its actualization. What are the real world implications of environmental policy not only at the global and federal levels, but at the level of the communities who are impacted directly?

Filling this gap, Mark Decena and Kontent Films created a documentary that follows the journey of seven grassroots activists committed to creating a better world through an emphasis on direct action against climate change. In addition to highlighting their individual experiences as artists, educators, activists, and active parts of their respective communities, the film brings to light the challenges, as well as the moments of unity, that surrounded the politically charged events in Paris during 2015. Seeking to portray the earth’s rising temperature as an issue that is not limited to its environmental impacts, Not Without Us captures climate change as a matter of human rights, indigenous knowledge, economics, community and most importantly: the future.

Beyond its political and educational narrative, the documentary is also a stunning achievement in filmography. Integrating juxtaposing images of humans and the natural world throughout, the film frames its informational aims with scenes of cities and landscapes from Bolivia to France. Through these moments, the film succeeds in its goal of providing a platform for diverse voices by balancing the stories of Western activists with those coming from the Global South. However, the film also showcases that communities at the point of fossil fuel extraction are scarcely considered a priority within the decision making processes of intergovernmental institutions. Serving as a powerful reminder of this disparity, the striking images of Shell oil spills in Nigeria highlight that the impacts of environmental shifts are felt most directly by countries whose geographic location and socio-economic standing limit their ability to mitigate these effects.

With the terrorists attacks in November of 2015 leaving France in a state of emergency and halting plans to resist the “false solutions” advertised at the COP21, the film is not shy in addressing the tension between the rights of individuals as they collide with governmental interests. Nevertheless, the film showcases how this political climate created a moment of unity for many of the environmental advocates. Providing a platform on which the activists could publicize their indignation, the ban on marching and formal assembly put a stop to traditional means of protest, yet it also enabled a turn towards alternative tactics like using shoes to replace their physical presence.

Ultimately, it is in the latter half of the documentary that the criticism of the hypocrisy and fragility of the global environmental policies passed in 2015 is truly developed. As the Paris Accord is perceived by the activists to be founded upon unsustainable goals, they condemn politicians and corporations for covering capitalist motives in optimism about future climate technologies. In particular, one interviewee explains that it “promotes unproven and harmful market mechanisms, allowing industries to buy carbon credits that offset rather than reduce emissions.”

Although the agreement appears to be a step in the right direction, the voices of Not Without Us question the extent to which our global goals are feasible and, perhaps more simply, enough. Concluding that even if each nation involved were to fulfil its pledges, the film makes clear that the continued extraction of fossil fuels is setting the world on track to exceed a safe temperature threshold of 2 degrees as early as 2025. With proposed annual aid for developing countries capped at $100 billion by the UN, while worldwide military spending exceeds $1.8 trillion, this documentary is a startling reminder that effective action against climate change is a choice, and one that begins at the level of the individual.

To watch the trailer or to learn more about the film, click the link: http://www.notwithoutusmovie.com


(1) Kevin Liptak and Jim Acosta, “Trump on Paris accord: We’re getting out” CNN. June 02, 2017.


Liptak, Kevin, and Jim Acosta. “Trump on Paris accord: We’re getting out’.” CNN. June 02, 2017.

Not Without Us. Directed by Mark Decena. Kotent Films, 2016. Accessed September 11, 2017. The Video Project.

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