Director Rachel Lears has returned to Sundance, three years after she triumphed at the festival with Knock Down the House.
That earlier documentary followed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her successful campaign to oust an entrenched Democratic Congressman. AOC plays a significant role in Lears’ latest film, To the End, with the focus shifting to efforts by the representative from New York and progressive activists to push through the Green New Deal.
“We tell the story of fighting for political solutions to the climate crisis, what the scientists are begging us for, that would really match the scale of the crisis we’re actually facing,” Lears said as she visited Deadline’s virtual Sundance Studio with two of her subjects, Alexandra Rojas and Varshini Prakash. “The story really allows viewers to emotionally process the existential anxiety of the historical moment that we’ve all been living through. Climate crisis is one thing; of course, the pandemic has compounded that, and all these interlocking crises that we face are all connected.”
Republicans have refused to support the Green New Deal or President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which includes funding to combat global warming. But AOC and supporters face tremendous resistance from moderate Democrats as well, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
“We know the Republicans are the boogeymen in the room… The Democratic Party, though, has a huge responsibility to take charge… fighting for solutions with everything in our being that match the scale, scope and urgency of the crisis we’re facing,” said Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats. “We have a Democratic Party that is stagnant… What we’re trying to do is really transform the Democratic Party to be one that is for working people, that can have the political will and courage and obviously base of support to take on this next leg of the fight, which is saving our planet.”
In 2019, young people in 150 countries took part in “climate strikes” to voice their alarm over the looming climate disaster. That was not enough to convince Sen. Manchin, who owns a coal company, to support Build Back Better.
“I have seen the emotional impact, the level of fear and desperation and angst and pain that people are going through, especially young people, seeing the reality of the climate crisis and how much action needs to be taken in the next decade,” noted Prakash, who heads the Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting decisive action on climate change. “And watching a single senator or two senators just completely strip that possibility out of their hands when people agitated, voted, took action, demonstrated — I mean, seven million children were in the streets during the climate strikes globally.”
To the End faults the news media for a failure to cover the threat of climate change in an intelligent manner. A great deal of reporting reduces the debate to one of cost.
“I think it’s really important to think critically about how the media shapes horizons of possibility,” Lears said. “We are talking about imagining a position beyond cynicism. The media wants us to be cynical, certainly the fossil fuel industry wants us to be cynical about the possibility that anything could change to decarbonize our economy. Just to take an example… the idea of how much it’s going to cost. It’s such a false choice. The cost of not acting on the climate crisis is just — there’s no comparison, even if you look at what we’re already spending to deal with climate-fueled disasters. So, when the media constantly frames things in terms of the top line numbers of cost — ‘How are you going to pay for it? It’s ridiculously expensive. Why would you ever do this?’ — it’s just a complete distraction from the true stakes of what we’re actually talking about here.”
To the End, from Impact Partners, is an acquisition title at Sundance. Watch the conversation with Lears and her subjects in the video above.
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