Germany 2016, 1h 30min.
German director Carl-A. Fechner is known for his environmental documentaries. His latest, Power to Change, recently saw its British premiere at London’s Raindance film festival. The film is a follow-up of sorts to his 2010 documentary entitled The Fourth Revolution.
First, a question about the title of your last film, The Fourth Revolution. Why the fourth?
“We talk about three large revolutions. The first was the transition from the hunter-gatherer society to farming. The second was the industrial revolution, when manual labour was gradually substituted by machines. The third was the information revolution, where a data network created global connections. The fourth revolution is the transition to decentralised and sustainable energy, which is the topic of the film.”
The word ‘revolution’ makes you think about fighting against the establishment and for freedom. Does this also form part of the energy revolution?
“Everyone knows that we are currently facing enormous problems in the world: poverty, hunger, lack of water, and injustice. Everything is connected, and the main issue linking them, as I see it, is the question of energy. A real change can only occur when power is handed to the people, and when they are given, as we say in the new film title, ‘Power to Change’”.
The title also refers to an energy revolt. What does this entail?
“The main idea is that anyone can be a rebel. You can change your energy supplier from fossil to green technology. You can participate in the blockade of a coal mine. There is a wide spectre of opportunities to get involved and make a difference – from being a protestor and activist to just choosing to implement new, green technologies. You can see this in my new film as well, where the story is about ten–eleven people who decide that they want to make a difference. They are rebels, but they do not live on the outside of society in any way. Take, for instance, the farmer who wants to invent a new method for making biofuel from bales of hay. He has genuine enthusiasm, but is also a businessman. You don’t need to take it too far. It is possible to be part of society and be a rebel at the same time.”
The choice is ours. So, the film is partly about innovation and new technologies –the argument seems to be that the new technologies are already here, and that it is just a case of using them?
“That’s right. The technology is already here. It is all down to the choice of each individual, then the choices of the different societies, cities and in politics overall. It would be the choice of the people, and these are choices people care about and get excited for. One of the central themes is speed and mobility, so electric cars are absolutely key. We will see many more of these over the next two or three years. It seems hard for people to change their eating habits, for instance to eat less meat – something which is vital – but this will probably change too, albeit very slowly. Choosing the latest and most advanced technologies, on the other hand, comes really easy to us – so changes on that front could happen really fast. It is so attractive to change to an electric car, that once you have done so, you will never go back to a fossil driven car. And when you have an electric car, you start to think about where power actually comes from, and prefer it to not come from nuclear power or coal power plants.”
“All my films portray energy, technology, people – and love.”
So alternative technologies raise awareness in their own right?
“There is a very interesting survey which shows that 80 per cent of the population support the energy transformation. People agree that it is a good thing. People who are not able to access this technology, on the other hand, are more sceptical, statistically speaking. Those who live in the vicinity of wind turbines are more positive to clean energy. And these wind turbines generate electricity that go straight into the network. People have to be properly introduced to these kinds of changes – they must feel a connection to them.”
Will and longing. Sticking with metaphors: What is the relation between power understood as electricity, and power as the political power to act?
“I am pleased that you point out this connection. We play with both connotations in the film. But, what I really mean is the ‘power to the people’ – which starts with a will and a longing. First, you long for the ocean, then you build a sailboat. The people’s power is something that starts in the heart and then travels to the thoughts – and then perhaps carrying on with the legs and a physical movement.”
Is it about a longing to get out of the gloomy mood of powerlessness and depression? Are people moved by the hope of making our society less destructive?
“Yes, every historical age has a mood of its own. It was naturally very depressing in Germany after Second World War and into the 1960s. During the seventies and eighties, an unusually strong peace movement developed. We rallied against medium-distance missiles on German soil directed at Moscow, and against the terrible prospect of a nuclear war. We built blockades and demonstrated – and we won. We actually managed to get rid of the missiles.”
Is this strong peace movement the reason why today’s Germany is a pioneer within environmental policies, as seen in your latest film?
“Well, the film is set in Germany, but it is built around a collection of characters. These are prototypes, if you wish – characters and lives that could easily be found in many other places. The film could, to a certain extent, have been made anywhere. In France, for instance, they still have a lot of nuclear power, but they also have a lot of activists. Our first screening of the film outside of Germany was in Iran. A man in the audience came forward and explained that he felt that one of the characters from the film was like a brother to him; that he was similar to him. They had the same life project, and struggled with the same problems. It is very interesting to witness the reactions of people from different places, the way they all identify with the film’s characters.”
So, presenting the film as a story about a movement is really justified?
“Precisely. It is not so much a story about Germany as it is about a global awakening. But, this movement is particularly strong in Germany. We have a lot of nuclear power here that generates a large amount of nuclear waste, which has to be transported to storage facilities. You need thousands of police for transporting this waste, because protestors block the roads – tens of thousands of people on the road with field kitchens, tents and sleeping bags. They are housewives, vicars, farmers and teachers – just regular citizens. Sometimes, it takes days for the police to remove the demonstrators, something I have also made a film about. These demonstrators have made history. German politicians decided that within 2032 the country will no longer have any nuclear power. That is a huge victory! We have a mighty, green movement consisting of 10–15 per cent of the population.”
Big-hearted. What has to be done in order to make this revolution successful?
“It hinges somewhat on political crossroads. We had a government that decided to lock the energy sources, in a bid to make investments in new energy sources – such as solar – safer. Then, we received a new government that changed this law. That put us back, but it can be reversed again for the better. There is a new election coming up this year.”
Does the energy revolution rely on appealing to people’s rational vested interests – or is it perhaps a question of moral involvement?
“We definitely need both. Audi invested 78 million in an e-gas project, but they are not necessarily particularly idealistic as a company. Their investments depend on their vested interests, which simultaneously serves the environmental cause. It’s a combination of rational arguments and big-heartedness.”
“The energy revolution is less of a question about technology and economy than about politics and a will to change.”
Those in power often state that, although energy transformation is desirable, it is practically speaking impossible to go through, or cannot be rushed. You seem to say that it is possible, and must happen sooner?
“My production company created a series of films, and they all depict energy, technology, people – and love. Our working hypothesis is this: A complete transition to decentralised sustainable energy is possible within 15–20 years. There are no independent studies that state that this is impossible. If people say this is not possible, it only means they have something to lose. There will always be winners and losers; in order for those in favour of renewable energy to win, the others must lose. Companies such as Mercedes are changing, but way too slowly! They launch their first entirely electric car only next year. By that time, Tesla will reach 200 000 sold cars.”
So, do you believe that people should emulate Elon Musk, who directly challenges conditions and laws by going through the courts and entering into political discussions?
“Musk has the production means and the money. But more importantly, he has real revolutionary ideas. That’s why we decided to feature him in both of our films. Musk is in a position where he can speak freely and without compromises, because he retails completely electrical cars. His profile is clear and he doesn’t need to worry about shareholders who also are connected to petrol cars. Big things are happening on the North American West coast. We have even considered adding some changes to the US edition of the film – to make it more North American, so to speak.”
The Californian way of thinking – that everything is possible – is spreading?
“Yes. Just a few years ago, we were told that this and that was simply impossible. Things that are now possible. In Norway, 20 per cent of all cars are electric, and this is supported by the national government. The energy revolution is less a question about technology and economy, than it is about politics and a will to change. Many years ago, I spoke about Chernobyl and the need to move to green energy sources. Some of my claims were not really true at the time, because it was not yet possible to change the system. But now it is possible, thanks to both the technology and the economy.”
So, we have to trust in things ahead of time – just believing them to be possible before they actually are?
“Yes, that is the true definition of a revolution«. It is proactive rather than reactive. I am certain that if ISIS were to attack a nuclear reactor – let us pray to God that that never happens – everyone would be asking how we could allow ourselves to depend on something so vulnerable and dangerous as nuclear power. In Germany and Switzerland, it has become possible to shut down nuclear energy. But, France uses 78 per cent nuclear power, whilst also boasting a 1 400 kilometre long coastline. Along the coast is a forest belt, planted by the state a century ago. It would be incredibly easy to construct thousands of new wind farms there, but nothing is happening. Then there are serious setbacks – such as the company that want to build a nuclear power plant next to Hinkley Point in England. Many are unaware of this. That is why towards the end of the film, I let the protestors gather in that location: It is still imperative to spread information and help people to wake up and take the issue into their own hands.”