2040: A heaven or a hell?

A- Environmental documentary
Directed by Damon Gameau

You’d expect a film titled 2040 to bring you into a dystopian nightmare – especially if it’s about climate change. It would dramatize a dying civilization where the oceans have risen and much of the planet is barely inhabitable. Something like The Handmaid’s Tale with coal fumes.

But this is a documentary, and a surprisingly upbeat one.

Damon Gameau, an Australian actor and filmmaker, sets out to show us the much better world we could live in if only society would make the right decisions. He travels the world, finding technologies and, more importantly, how to use those technologies for the benefit of humanity – along with the other species with whom we share the planet.

Gameau made one rule: The technologies and procedures discussed in the film exist now. They are being used profitably in some places and could be used elsewhere. Gameau fudges a bit, but not much – especially if you don’t count the flying smartphone, which is basically a joke.

His point is that technology isn’t the problem. It’s how we use that technology. The problem is that the world’s most powerful people would become somewhat less powerful if these changes were made.

Nevertheless, Gameau is upbeat and funny. He uses digital effects for clever and amusing purposes. For instance, the many experts who talk to the camera appear to be about three inches high and sitting on walls, branches, and so on. Aside from providing comic relief, the effects give the film a pleasant visual quality.

Gameau obviously made 2040 for his young daughter, who we meet early. He wants to help create a better world for her, and he picked the titular year as a time when she will be a young adult. Actress Eva Lazzaro plays his adult daughter in scenes of the future.

His daughter isn’t the only adorable child in the movie. Sequences are broken up with children talking about the environment. Some of what they say is expectedly laughable; other times it’s surprisingly wise.

Most of the film is set in 2019 – the year the film was made. Here we visit a village in Bangladesh where every shack has solar panels and batteries, in a loose, village-sized grid that ignores big electrical companies. Gameau tries out a self-driving car while discussing the wasteful use of parking spaces. He shows us ways to heal the ocean and create more seaweed-based food. And, of course, he discusses other food solutions, including multi-cultured farming and eating less meat.

Yes, Gameau flew on many airplanes to make the film, burning a lot of carbon-based fuel. To Gameau’s credit, he acknowledges his hypocrisy. On the other hand, the filmmakers paid to offset the production’s own use of fossil fuel.

Will 2040 help change the world? Probably not. The only people who will see it will be people who already understand the problem. But it’s humor and optimistic tone might help a bit.

2040 will open Friday, June 12, through the Rafael.