In this enviro doc Damon Gameau looks to the future and envisions a better world for his daughter.
Damon Gameau and his family working for a sustainable future. Image supplied.
What will the Earth be like in 21 years? That is what actor-cum-director Damon Gameau seeks to hypothesise in 2040; a world that confronts the issue of climate change immediately and presents a hopeful potential vision for the future. Designed as a cinematic letter to Gameau’s four-year-old daughter who will inherent the environmental sins of these current generations, 2040 is the follow-up to Gameau’s equally lively social-issue documentary That Sugar Film and hopes to parlay that earlier film’s success and the current discussion around global warming into another conversation-starting box office hit.
In its execution, 2040 recalls the works of Michael Moore and in particular his 2017 film Where to Invade Next? In that film, Moore travelled the world to find solutions to America’s social ills. In 2040, Gameau leaves his wife, child and their middle-class suburban bliss behind to go around the world finding answers to issues including the over-harvesting of land, stress on energy networks, beef production, mass automobile production, marine regeneration and more. He intersperses these scientific visits with dramatised visions of the future, with actress Eva Lazzaro playing Gameau’s daughter, Velvet, existing in something of a Utopian future where these problems have been solved.
Gameau clearly has a knack for populist documentary filmmaking – once again, like Moore, a filmmaker who has spoken of documentary film’s necessity to be entertainment first and foremost. 'People don’t want medicine, they want popcorn,' Moore said at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. 'People want to go home and have sex after your movie.'
Moore’s stamp is all over 2040 both behind and in front of the camera. One wishes, however, that Gameau would spend more time being a documentarian and less being a comedian. His attempts at humour are often unnecessary and sometimes awkwardly uncomfortable – especially since he is making this for his daughter. When he and his wife, Zoe, put on old-age make-up to perform erotic yoga while wishing his daughter keeps her virginity well into her 20s, this leaves a foul taste in the mouth of an otherwise affecting movie that lays its case out with clarity and simple, easy-to-understand scientific information.
Other directorial flourishes are more successful. Diorama-like animations have a playfulness to them that mixes in well with the film’s light-hearted tone. Talking head interviews, a mainstay of documentaries, are once again integrated with subjects shrunken down and placed throughout sequences through the use of CGI. It’s a novel trick that was utilised in That Sugar Film and allows Gameau and editor Jane Usher to keep an energetic pace.
That Sugar Film was such a big success in 2015, becoming the highest-grossing Australian non-IMAX documentary of all time (it has since been overtaken by Jennifer Peedom’s Mountain). The film was actually a bellwether of sorts for a remarkable turn-around in the exhibition fate of local non-fiction content. The top ten biggest box office hits for Australian documentaries includes an additional four films released post-Sugar, including most recently Paul Damien Williams’ Gurrumul, with a growing number of others finding box office success amid the general downturn in financial success for cinema attendance across the country. It is actually a phenomenon replicated worldwide, too.
Madman Films are clearly positioning the film as another potential success for the local documentary scene and are hoping to build similar word-of-mouth success that made That Sugar Film such an over-performer. Students are being offered free tickets when attending with an adult (both key demographics), and the film has been promoted more than most Australian documentaries. It remains to be seen whether 2040 can reach those heights, but the more far-reaching implications of its subject matter will no doubt make it a conversation piece with hopefully some lasting impressions with its rational and logical solutions.
Of course, 2040 is also a rare documentary with a large budget - $3 million, apparently. With the amount of CGI recreations and animation involved, that’s probably not much of a surprise, but it’s hard to see the film recouping that figure. Financed partly through Screen Australia and Film Victoria, there is a natural hope that the film will have a healthy life overseas, especially given its international flavour. If nothing else, a notable sale to a streaming platform like Netflix would certainly put it in front of many more eyeballs, like another Australian social doc, Joe Cross and Kurt Engfehr’s Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead from 2010, which has experienced a long post-theatrical life and is available across America on Amazon along with its 2014 sequel.
The issues that Gameau is playing with here are obviously of the utmost importance, although it is just the latest in a long line of documentaries about how we’re killing nature; another film that will make you want to sit this country’s leaders down and force them to watch, A Clockwork Orange-style. Is 2040 a case of preaching to the choir? Certainly, upon its initial release it’s hard to imagine those with an affinity for denying climate change are going to seek it out. But the hope is that Gameau will be able to break through in a way that other recent local enviro docs like Karina Holden’s excellent Blue or Nicholas D Wrathall’s Undermined: Tales from the Kimberley struggled to do.
Rating: 3 ½ stars
Director: Damon Gameau
Australia, 2019, 92mins
Release date: 23 May 2019
Distributor: Madman Films