By Justine Kraemer, GAC volunteer writer.
The Guelph Film Festival is underway with its annual compilation of documentaries. One of the features in the lineup for week one is Jennifer Abbott’s The Magnitude of All Things.
When Abbott’s sister passed away from cancer, Abbott went on a filmmaking journey to explore the parallels between her personal grief and the grief of those directly affected by climate change. She went on a journey to speak to those who are on their own grief journey when faced with the current climate emergency, and to impress upon viewers that this is an issue that impacts us all, whether or not we choose to acknowledge the truth.
Abbott so poignantly weaves interviews and first hand accounts of climate activists and those who have already lost livelihoods and homes to the climate crisis with scenes from her own childhood in Ontario. The choice to have Abbott and her sister played by actors, accompanied by voiceover of correspondence and reflections exchanged between sisters was particularly effective. The personal grief journey Abbott walks through so closely parallels the experiences of those who recognize the destructive impact climate change is having in real time.
For those that Abbott spotlights through the film, climate change is not simply a theoretical problem affecting faraway plants and animals with no real impact on the surrounding human civilization. People who have lost homes to the Australian wildfires describe the overwhelming loss felt at watching everything they own go up in smoke. Prominent environmental activist Greta Thunberg spoke to the almost paralyzing fear facing young people faced with the prospect of losing the entire world that we know. Her famous “How dare you” speech to the United Nations was a sobering wakeup call for so many to realize the true price humanity will pay without further action to disrupt the climate crisis.
Abbott highlights the experience of multiple Indigenous communities, for whom the climate crisis is felt acutely every single day. It is more than a debate among political and industrial leaders for these communities. Their histories and present lives are endangered in such a tangible way, it is infuriating even to think about. Indigenous communities around the world have taken care of the world around them for generations. The grief felt to see all of that effort constantly threatened is palpable.
The parallels between Abbott’s personal grief and the grief experienced facing the loss of our very habitat are clear. The loss of our planet is on a much larger scale, and the grief process is even more drawn out. However, those grieving the crisis facing the climate often exhibit so many of the traditional stages of grief that many people are familiar with. From a deep rage, to not so much acceptance, but an acknowledgement that action needs to be taken.
The reflections of Abbott’s sister give a heartrending account of when faced with a devastating reality, meaning and purpose can still be found. Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam muses that only when hope has been lost are people compelled to take action. However, it’s clear that hope is found in seeing these movements highlighted in The Magnitude of All Things and the fact that people from all backgrounds band together behind a common goal.
The Magnitude of All Things is also so artistically put together, from beginning to end. Jarring shots of climate destruction make the filmmaker’s message real, contrasted with shots of how beautiful our natural world really is. The score and soundtrack are so beautifully used to amplify the emotions Abbott asks viewers to sit with when faced with such affecting information.
The Magnitude of All Things is not only an incredibly topical call to action for our generation. It is also a sobering meditation on the magnitude of the problem we face. The climate crisis affects absolutely every facet of our lives. Going through the grief process may very well be the path we all need to take to spur us to action.
The Guelph Film Festival runs until December 5th! Please take the time to check out the incredible line ups this year and Guelph Film!