What’s Damon Gameau’s 2040?

A hopeful vision of the future

Ahead of its national release on 23 May, we caught up with Damon Gameau, director of the acclaimed That Sugar Film, to talk about this latest documentary, the innovative and inspirational 2040.

Congratulations on 2040 and the fantastic response it’s had so far. What do you think it is about the film that has elicited such enthusiasm?

The overwhelming feedback has been that the film has given people a sense of relief. People have been reminded that there are things we can do. As we know, we are so bombarded with the opposite that we can feel hope is gone, and that is not how we respond as humans. We need hope; it’s important to our spirit and motivation. So I think that’s the reason people are connecting. It’s a fine line, it’s not all going to just happen, but the first step is showing people it is possible. The challenge is to find a way to come together and implement it.

Where did the idea to structure the film as a visual letter to your four-year-old daughter come from?

It partly came from a sense of not knowing how to communicate with her or be able to verbalise it until she gets older. I thought, right now, everything I tell her is going to be quite dire. So it was born of wanting to create balance and make sure she knows things are serious and there are things she needs to understand, but also that there are things she can do.

I think it also helps to depoliticise the film, which is a bonus because I think the whole topic of climate and environment has sadly descended into this quite polemic place. It can’t help be political in some sense, but the film is about children and cleaner air and cleaner water – things we should all value. I wanted to include the kids’ voices too because I didn’t want it to be just my version of 2040, it had to be a collective vision. And the kids helped to steer the narrative and shape the story.

2040 is described as an antidote to the often-negative discussions about our environmental future. Why did you decide to look at this topic from a positive angle?

I think of the analogy of a patient and doctor. It’s really important to get the detailed diagnosis and understand what is wrong but you also want to know what actions you can take to cure the problem. So again it’s about creating balance as well as considering the neuroscience around how our brains work. If there is a constant flow of negativity, we can shut down and disengage. It’s hard to be motivated. We need to feel the authenticity of what is happening and we need vulnerability from our leaders - I think we need a lot more of that - but we also need to balance that with the solutions.

The film incorporates traditional documentary filmmaking with dramatisation and animation. What do you achieve by combining these various styles?

It wasn’t a deliberate choice but rather about finding the best way to share this information. I don’t know that I am a filmmaker, but what I love doing is trying to convey information in a fun, accessible way. So it was about choosing whatever tools suited a particular piece of information. The narrative device around the future, the dreamy element, allowed some of the emotion and the heart to exist within the film. Otherwise it could have been too much of an intellectual exercise that was hard to connect with on a human level. Bringing in the narrative component, using different music and lenses helped to give a sense of this beautiful world that people could live in – an element people could connect to and a 2040 they wanted to be in. So it wasn’t deliberate, but it was about connecting the heart and the head.

The film features interviews with almost 100 children aged from 6-11, who share the kind of world they would like to see in 2040. What did you find out from these interviews that you didn’t expect?

It was amazing how articulate they were and how across so many issues they were. It was also interesting how in every country the children had their own dreams, specific to that area. So the Tunisian kids’ dreams were about infrastructure, like roads, whereas in Sweden, they were all about meat and trees. The American children were a bit more political, particularly the Brooklyn kids, who were talking about leadership. It was different every time which made it an enjoyable process.

What did you learn from making That Sugar Film that helped with 2040

I think it was about how to create a sense of hope. There was a way of making that film that said, ‘hey, sugar is really dangerous and if you have it you’re going to die’. And I thought, actually, that was already out there, so I tried to make a film that said, ‘if you reduce sugar your life can be better off’. It had that aspirational aspect and I probably approached this topic in a similar way. A lot of the content about climate and environment uses a heavy-handed approach, which has its place, , but it’s about balancing it out. We can have a healthier planet and a better future. So I learned a lot from that approach, but also how great film can be in a community sense. I’m very excited right now to be on tour and interacting with audiences, seeing how engaged they are with the film and the Q+As. People don’t want to leave – they want to stay and talk. That’s the wonderful thing film offers up and we need to nurture that.

In 2016, 2040 was selected for Good Pitch Australia – an initiative that gives documentary filmmakers the chance to pitch their project to leading change-makers around urgent social and environmental issues – and received support from Film Victoria to create a pitch document and teaser.  What was the impact of this pitching opportunity on the film’s success?

When you’re trying to get money to make a documentary it’s really important to be able to give people a sense of the tone and the visuals, and whether they can trust the person they’re going to say yes to. It was really crucial for That Sugar Film and for 2040 it was even more powerful. We shared the teaser at Good Pitch in Sydney and had an extraordinary response from all sorts of donors and philanthropists, which allowed us to build our impact campaign and also to raise the money for the film in a short amount of time. That was because people connected with those three minutes. They understood and they believed in the message. So I strongly recommend that to everyone who is trying to raise money. Make it the best it can be because that is your calling card and how people connect with your story. Otherwise it’s all in your head. A good pitch and teaser allows people to get into your head and relate to the story.

As well as supporting 2040’s development and production, Film Victoria also supported Victorian documentary filmmaker Kim Ingles to undertake an impact producer placement with GoodThing Productions, working on the campaign for 2040, among other projects. Why is it important to foster new talent in this area?

We couldn’t do what we’ve been doing without Kim. The opportunity has been remarkable because it allows the impact side of this documentary, which is so crucial, to get the story out there and have real impact. We urgently need to be training people with these skills. It’s a really interesting new role and we need new talent. We’re incredibly grateful for Kim and what Film Victoria provided. There have been a couple of moments she’s had to really step up and get involved more than she probably thought and she’s handled it so well. It’s great to have someone so across the whole project that you can trust. You can get burned out on these films so you need a great support team. Kim has made an enormous difference to us.

2040 releases on 23 May in cinemas across Australia.

This interview has been edited and condensed. The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the individual involved and do not necessarily represent those of Film Victoria.