Documentary review: Just Do It. A Tale of Modern Day Outlaws directed by Emily James


The recent International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount in 2010 “should shock the world”, argues the Executive Director of Greenpeace.
 
The problem is many people are not aware of this news, most are not shocked and still less are actively doing something to reduce emissions. Just the right time then for Just Do It – a self-consciously trendy documentary about a close-knit group of young people in Britain who are working to stop climate change by carrying out creative direct action.
 
The subtitle – A Tale of Modern Day Outlaws – is a conspicuous attempt to present climate activism as exciting and dangerous. From the 2009 Climate Camp in the City of London to the Copenhagen Climate summit it’s a fascinating, often quirky ride, though not without its serious side, including lots of examples of police violence and intimidation.
 
Watching the media-friendly lock-ons, stunts and occupations, what is most noticeable is how different these “extremists” are to the unshowered “Swampy” stereotypes of the 90s or to the SWP troopers hawking Socialist Worker on the high street. Activism is cool again, it would seem. Or at least reminiscent of a Mumford & Sons band photo shoot. Invariably white and middle-class, with many attending elite universities, one would be proud to take any of these well-spoken law-breakers home to meet even the pickiest of parents.
 
Despite the film’s broad appeal, a strong anti-capitalist message emerges as the activists mull over the failure of the talks in Copenhagen. “The system that prioritizes profit over people time and time again is the same system that’s driving this”, says Sally from Climate Rush. Rowan, a Plane Stupid activist, notes “I can see the end of capitalism as the only rational solution to solving climate change”.
 
Those looking for an indepth analysis of the science or politics of climate change will be disappointed. Rather the film could best be described as a beginners guide to carrying out direct action. So if you want to know what an affinity group is, or how to ‘de-arrest’ someone, or carry out consensus decision making, Just Do It is for you. Interestingly, while police infiltration is hinted at with activists taking out their mobile phone batteries during planning meetings, the issue is strangely absent from the film. This is especially bizarre when you consider over 100 people were pre-emptively arrested before the attempted shutdown of the Radcliffe power station in 2009 – a central part of the story presented here.
 
Arguably, the recent student rebellions and the ongoing UK Uncut actions have moved the centre of direct action activism in this country away from climate change issues. However, the frightening IEA estimates demonstrate that the latter continues to be the most pressing concern of this generation. Director Emily James should therefore be applauded for making such an accessible, positive and inspirational film that provides a captivating peek inside 21st century climate activism in the UK.
 
The premiere screening of Just Do It is at the Sheffield Doc Fest at 18:35 on June 9. www.just-do-it.org.uk
 
*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. [email protected] and http://twitter.com/#!/IanJSinclair

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