Climate change is quickly becoming the next big hit in the film world. Think about blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road, Wall-E, and docu-series like Our Planet. For a problem as big as climate change, this is great news. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have for activating people.

And like the problem itself, the way climate change is portrayed in these stories can be just as complicated, expansive and dramatic. While these films can educate, provoke, and even alarm viewers, they may not resonate as deeply as they could at the local level, causing a disconnect between this urgent issue and viewers’ everyday lives. Without a personal connection, people may not feel as inspired to take action.

At Unstoppable, we’re constantly exploring how to maximize film’s potential for change. Here’s a look at how we’ve used different films to connect the dots between big stories captured in film and the local issues that can move people to action

The Jungle Book to Save Atlanta’s “City in the Forest”

Photo: Katie Brittle
THE OPPORTUNITY: Raise awareness about Atlanta’s depleting urban tree canopy

The City of Atlanta, or rather “The City in the Forest,” has global recognition for its tree canopy, which covers half the city. With a single mature tree absorbing 48 pounds of carbon a year, a robust canopy is one of the most effective ways a city can tackle climate change.

Yet, Atlanta has been struggling for years to adopt a Trees Ordinance that properly protects the canopy amidst the city’s development boom. In fact, Georgia is now losing more forested acreage than any other state in the country.

This Spring we teamed up with the non-profit Trees Atlanta to share a timeless tale – the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book – to deepen Atlantans’ appreciation for their “City in the Forest” and encourage them to raise their voice ahead of the City Council’s revisitation of the Trees Ordinance.

THE FILM: Channelling our inner Mowgli to protect the urban jungle

We chose to rediscover this grown-up and visually stunning take on the 1960’s Disney classic because we all can resonate with Mowgli’s struggle to balance his ability to be a constructive or destructive force on the natural world.  We encouraged guests to channel their inner Mowgli, helping them appreciate the beauty in Atlanta’s own urban jungle and their responsibility to protect it. We then focused on “the strength of the pack” one of the rules of the jungle, that calls for us to work better together to protect the things that matter most.

THE MOMENTUM: Atlantans voiced their support for a climate-friendly Trees Ordinance

After watching the film, guests visited Trees Atlanta’s booth outside of the theater to sign a letter to critical decision makers urging them to revise the current Trees Ordinance to better protect the city’s urban canopy. In the end, over 100 attendees offered their support on the spot, far surpassing average engagement at typical Trees Atlanta events and activations, according to the organization.

Chasing Coral to Secure South Carolina’s Clean Energy Future

Photo: Mark Crawford, Exposure Labs
THE OPPORTUNITY: Widen support among legislators for clean energy legislation

In partnership with Conservation Voters of South Carolina, we launched the Dear South Carolina Film Tour as state representatives faced big decisions about the state’s future energy and conservation policies. At the time of the tour, the state was in an energy crisis. South Carolinians were paying the nation’s highest electricity bills, at $400 more a year than the U.S. average, and dealing with the aftermath of an abandoned nuclear project intended to meet the state’s future energy needs.

THE FILM: Diving under the waves to comprehend climate change in our own backyard

Even in a landlocked region of the Deep South, Chasing Coral captivated audiences with its gripping narrative, awe-inspiring imagery, and unprecedented evidence of how quickly our climate and ecosystems are changing. Bringing the story home, viewers likened massive coral bleaching to South Carolina’s shrinking trout populations, more frequent 1,000-year floods and extended heat waves.

Event attendees were devastated by what they witnessed and learned, but equally inspired by the notion that they could help by accelerating solutions like clean energy at home.

THE MOMENTUM: South Carolinians got loud and leaders listened

State legislators supported a shift to clean energy in theory, but lacked support from their constituents in order to confidently back new policies. Event hosts explained this to attendees and encouraged them to write a short message on posters addressed to state representatives playing a pivotal role in these decisions.

Over the course of the campaign, over 250 South Carolinians attended screenings, including 8 lawmakers, and over 100 attendees shared their thoughts on posters. And in May 2019, legislators in the South Carolina House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously passed the Energy Freedom Act, including many that attended our events. The Energy Freedom Act will save South Carolinians money on their energy bills and create a real future for solar in the state.

Beasts of the Southern Wild to Elevate Energy Equity

Photo: Exposure Labs
THE OPPORTUNITY: Get out the vote for a more equitable energy future

South Carolinians may have the highest energy bills in the nation, but Georgians have the 4th highest energy burden, meaning many are spending upwards of 10% of their monthly income on electricity. These high costs disproportionately impact low-income communities, and are one of the many environmental justice issues exacerbated by climate change.

Georgia’s energy affordability and clean energy future are almost entirely determined by a state agency run by elected officials called the Public Service Commission; many of which were up for reelection during the 2018 midterms. This offered Atlantans an opportunity to reflect on what kind of energy future they wanted to see and vote for. Ahead of Election Day, we collaborated with the civil rights organization Partnership for Southern Equity to raise awareness about the upcoming election and the power of our vote to determine the state’s clean and equitable energy future.

THE FILM: Seeing environmental injustice through a child’s eyes

This 4-time Academy Award-nominated film takes viewers on a journey to the bayou to experience the ferocity of climate change alongside Hushpuppy, a young but defiant six-year-old girl. Her story compels viewers to contend with what climate change means for marginalized communities, as well as our collective duty to address it. As Hushpuppy wisely says, “When you’re a small piece of a big puzzle, you gotta fix what you can.”

THE MOMENTUM: Pledging to vote with the environment top of mind

We educated guests about what the Public Service Commission was, and encouraged them to commit to voting in the upcoming midterm elections and all future elections with the environment top of mind. Unstoppable Voter pledge cards were distributed after the film, and offered a tangible, non-partisan action for guests to take regardless of their political affiliation. Our program partner then kept pledge-takers accountable by following up with reminders before all upcoming elections. Event attendees later contributed to the highest early voter turnout in a midterm election.

Stories have always been crucial levers for moving our society forward, and when we connect them to local issues we help them come alive. If your team is interested in how to connect your film to a local issue or how film can help advance your organization’s advocacy work, get in touch with us here.