documentary

Review: Wild Things 

6 February 2021

I really wanted to love this film. 

Wild Things tells the stories of several environmental campaigns happening in so-called Australia right now, as well as providing some overview of the history of environmental activism across the country. The film follows several campaigners for a year or so, tracking their actions and interviewing them about their reasons for being involved in activism, as well as their hopes for the future of climate justice. The cinematography is awe-inspiring and spectacular, all misty forests and sunny, energetic rallies. So many of the  interview subjects are powerfully articulate, determined characters who are able to clearly delineate the importance of fighting for environmental justice. 

There are some beautiful narrative threads such as  the journey of the ‘school strike for climate’ students from their beginnings, as inspired by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, to the United Nations summit on climate change. The assemblage of frontline activists working to prevent mining in the Galilee Basin demonstrate the diversity of backgrounds, experience, and ages of many campaigners across the Australian environmental movement. 

Attempting to describe the film or even assess whether it achieves its goals to contextualise this recent moment in environmental activism is difficult. It simply tries to cover too much ground and leaves one feeling a little overwhelmed by all we’ve seen. The narrative hops between time and locations and jumps between different characters in the movement so quickly it gives the viewer some whiplash. It tries to fill in some important historical background through interviews with key figures and moments of evocative archival footage depicting significant movements like the Franklin River Dam campaign and the blockade against the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine. But some of these brief deviations from contemporary activism feel like rushed side-notes that are never given enough context or detail. In the case of Jabiluka, for instance, we don’t get much input from the Traditional Owners who spearheaded the campaign—nor, in the film as a whole, do we get much airtime with First Nations people. For a country built on colonialism and genocide, this feels like a glaring oversight. First Nations voices exist in the film but are never really adequately centred. 

In fact, the film, for all its merit and earnestness, tends to centre the voices of white people (and I of course understand the irony in taking up yet more space writing this review as a white woman). The amount of times I counted white cultural appropriation was comparable to  the level you’d find walking into the Rainbow Serpent Festival. Of course, it is not the filmmakers’ responsibility to edit out, chastise, or explain away the problems with white people wearing dreadlocks, for instance. But what is important is which faces are shown, which voices are chosen to represent movements nationwide—and which perspectives get left out when others are preferenced. 

I would certainly recommend this documentary as a worthy introduction to the recent state of environmental activism in Australia. It provides an admirable (if at times a little corny) hopefulness about where we’re headed. Hopefully it serves as an inspiring overview for people to get more involved, do their research, look into the history of not only blockades and campaigns in this country, but also the interconnections of colonialism, genocide, and environmental destruction. While I didn’t love it, maybe it will spark a new love and purpose within other audiences, inspiring them to learn, listen, and take action.


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