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Interview: Activist Emily Hunter talks Greenpeace Film, Father's Legacy

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A documentary about the origins of Greenpeace has become something both powerfully personally and universally inspiring for Emily Hunter. It’s a film she had no part in making, but it’s a story into which she was born.

“I didn’t watch the rough cut, I didn’t know what was going to unfold,” says Emily Hunter of How to Change the World. The documentary directed by Jerry Rothwell, which showed at Sundance this year and now released in Toronto, chronicles the founding of Greenpeace by Emily’s late father Robert Hunter and a group of activists.  “What I saw was a film that accurately portrayed my father; his humanity, perhaps his flaws. He is a very relatable character that people can have empathy towards; someone who was a reluctant leader.”

“He wanted to share ideas and empower people to become their own change makers, become inspirations.”

Hunter has taken up the pursuits of her father; the 31-year-old Canadian is an environmental activist, filmmaker, speaker, and author. She is known as the eco-huntress, having worked with Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, traveling the world to encourage vigilance and inspire change. Without involvement in the film, she was nervous as to what would unfold; anxiety though has been replaced with both pride and an overwhelming surge of emotion.

“I’ve had to step away from the film, even though I do love it,” says Hunter, who talked to Ecorazzi on the phone ahead of the Toronto release. “What I can see though is people, young and old, who have never known [my father] who really connect to him on a personal level. It’s incredibly moving to see that reaction.”

Her father employed the notion of the ‘mind bomb,’ something more than just potent images and video (though the film does find great power in utilizing never-before-seen archival footage). They were uniquely-told exploits and events meant to galvanize a public that may be too complacent with familiar narratives. “These stories were different: they were of human stewardship [of the planet] instead of domination. We can use our consciousness as the greatest tool for revolution.”

Today’s ‘mind bomb’ says Hunter involves the arctic, a land mass seemingly up for grabs and whose ownership will dictate the future of the planet for decades. “It is a literal tipping point for runaway climate change,” she says. “We can either continue on with an old story of fossil fuel dependency, or turn this into a sanctuary and transition ourselves into renewable energy.”

Bob_guest“We can potentially win this, we can stop it before it happens,” says Hunter, who cites some 7 million supporters pushing towards making the arctic a safe haven, like the Antarctic Specially Protected Area.  “It’s one of the few areas that is literally our cooling system, and if we lose this, then we are accepting a runaway acclimate change situation all for the short-term profits of a few oil companies. A few will benefit from, and the rest of us will suffer”

Hunter contends that our culture needs to become more active and aware. While Rothwell has said that it was a hard decision as to how much graphic footage to include in the documentary (which includes seals beheaded and whales harpooned), Hunter says we all need to bear witness. Of course she grew up with such scenes.

“I woke up to the realities of the world,” she says of her upbringing. “People need to wake up a little bit and realize what’s going on. And this is stuff from the 70s,” Hunter says of the film’s footage, “what’s happening now is even far more graphic.”

“Generally in our culture, were very much pacified, very much sheltered, very much a culture that is turning a blind eye.”

Tragedies like the murder of Cecil the Lion is an example of many becoming acutely aware of one particular problem around the world. Articles and pictures circulated rapidly, galvanizing communities and governments while creating outrage as well as conversation on social media. For Hunter, events like this hold greater meaning.

“It shows our fights are going to be many generations in the making,” she explains. “We have fought for endangered acts, we have fought against international trading, we’ve won battles, yet still there is a lack of enforcement. A doctor from the states to go kill an endangered species from a population that will be lost within our lifetime.”

Hunter is currently working with Greenpeace, as well as a strategic voting organization looking to make the tar sands part of the conversation in the upcoming Canadian national election.

“Just because we won fights in the past, doesn’t mean it’s done. We all are part of a cultural change, part of a consciousness change. We can’t just get policies, can’t just get laws. We need more people involved doing this work, and it can’t just be a few select activists.”

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