By definition climate change is something that affects us all and only short sighted individuals would argue otherwise. But very few people are willing to do more than make a vague commitment to recycle more often. Not so the subjects of Just Do It, who chain themselves to corporate headquarters, scale fences and generally make a nuisance of themselves in the name of environmental activism.
Emily James takes us behind the scenes at two separate campaigning groups – Climate Camp who advocate direct action against major carbon emitters and Plane Crazy who oppose the third runway at Stansted Airport. Along the way we meet perpetually friendly housewife Marina who greets police officers with a friendly smile and a cup of tea, former art-student turned activist Sophie Nathan and Cambridge student Sally.
James has been given a surprising amount of access to the groups’ activities especially considering that the footage could easily have been used as evidence in a court of law. The participants are a likable bunch – passionate, committed and articulate, particularly Marina who solves problems with a brew up and at one point camps out on a roundabout for over three months. Regardless of what you think of her opinions, you do have to admire her dedication.
It’s also frequently funny. A scene in which the protesters stage a distraction in order to deliver homemade fish and chips to workers camping inside a wind farm factory sounds like something out of comedy sketch show. That’s not to say that they’re activities aren’t planned seriously or don’t have serious consequences; scenes showing the Danish police battering protestor outside an environmental summit in Denmark are utterly deplorable.
The film’s centrepiece is the storming of the RBS headquarters in London where members use ladders, bike chains and superglue to attach themselves to both the entrance and each other inside in a bid to disrupt trading. There’s a compelling scene beforehand where members of the team calmly decide who is willing to get arrested for the cause – it’s like watching soldiers psyching themselves up for battle.
But Just Do It fails to ask more than the most cursory of questions of its participants, only once directly asking Marina “Are you doing any good?” which prompts a long period of silence from her before a decidedly faltering reply.
It’s certainly admirable as a piece of observational filmmaking but without addressing those questions – and they’re questions that everyone thinking of getting involved is bound to ask – how is it going to win over anyone other than those already committed to its cause?
Still, Just Do It remains a thought-provoking documentary which clearly expresses the pent up frustration of not being able to adequately protest the system without inevitably resorting to breaking the law but it’s unlikely to appeal to anyone already allied with its principles.