Most climate-change documentaries sound pre-emptive warnings about the consequences if we fail to take action. But this essential cine-essay by Emmanuel Cappellin – a former cinematographer for Yann-Arthus Bertrand – instead takes as its starting point the idea that all is already lost. That, as Cappellin concluded as a nature-obsessed young researcher, whatever projection you choose, capitalism is destined to deplete its resources and collapse within a few decades.
If that sounds depressing, it is. This mournful piece, with the despairing Cappellin looking for answers, consults a series of Cassandras, in the shape of a number of environmentalists and collapsologists prognosticating about whether, and how, mankind can adapt. In post-crisis Greece, examining the country’s potential as a possible laboratory for degrowth, journalist Richard Heinberg wonders about the future: “Are we better off not knowing?” Actually, Cappellin decides, we are not. Where his documentary breaks ground is the curt pragmatism that takes hold. As Bangladeshi climate scientist Saleemul Huq says, it is now the duty of every individual to locate the “emotional trigger point” of what climate change means in their life, so we can decide precisely how to react.
Recalling William Gibson’s comment about the future already being here, just not evenly distributed, Bangladesh – with every new cyclone – is currently on the frontline of working out these parameters. Cappellin looks to its villagers for pointers on the mentality needed to evolve. He hits on the notion of the resilient network: rather than the squirrel-munching American lone survivalist, small groups of people using their skills in concert will be best-equipped to adapt. The hope is that the low-key but high-functioning democratic ethos this would lead to – being tested in the refugee-welcoming French village he moves to – would put mankind on a different path to the elitist despoiling and hoarding that got us into this predicament.
Once You Know goes even further than the kind of programmes offered up in the likes of Cyril Dion and Melanie Laurent’s big French eco-hit Tomorrow from 2015. Ultimately, it suggests that, after the resource-pillaging growth frenzy of the past two centuries, we need to go philosophical cold turkey, appreciating limits, finitude, and even contemplating the possibility of failure. “To confront this terrifying reality we’re talking about is like confronting your own ending,” says scientist Susanne Moser, gazing out on to storm-wracked waves. Cappellin’s film is a radical, sobering and overdue confrontation.