This article is part of Right Now’s February Issue, focusing on Technology and Human Rights.
Right Now: Australia – and Melbourne in particular – hosts a number of film festivals through the year. What sets the Transitions Film Festival apart?
Daniel Simons: The Transitions Film Festival is the only festival in Melbourne, and one of the only festivals in the world, that focuses on programming content that showcases solutions to society’s greatest challenges. We also place strong emphasis on connecting global ideas with local artists and community groups that are having an impact in Australia.
The festival has a focus on films that showcase transitions to a better world – what role do you see film, and festivals, playing in facilitating that shift?
Films, and film festivals, will have an enormously influential role in catalysing the transformation. The great thing about films is that – as well as having the power to transmit new ideas – they also reach people on a deeper, more emotional level, which can be crucial. We’ve seen the power that films like An Inconvenient Truth and Chasing Ice have had on raising consciousness, or igniting a sense of urgency on an issue. Kony 2012 was another great example of this, and I think that this trend is going to continue.
… as well as having the power to transmit new ideas [films] reach people on a deeper, more emotional level, which can be crucial.
The great thing about festivals is that they allow the audience to surround themselves with like-minded people and feel empowered and connected to a larger group or community. Often it is the personal connections that are made after the films that have the most impact in the long term.
Film is increasingly being seen as a way to create social change on a mass scale and there are whole new industries being born at the moment related to what is being called ‘Impact Producing’. A number of our films in our program have been supported by these initiatives like Good Pitch, which started in the UK and is making its way to Australia this year. Good Pitch unites filmmakers with foundations, NGOs campaigners, philanthropists, policy makers, brands and media – in order to ensure that socially conscious films have maximum impact.
The program has a particular emphasis on positive, inspiring films, what drove this and why do you see it as an important theme of the festival?
The central idea for the festival came from my co-director Tim Parish, who first ran it in Darwin. After films like An Inconvenient Truth, Age of Stupid, The 11th Hour and a whole spate of other equally gloomy environmental films had been released there was a sense that people understood the problems we are facing and that, rather than being overwhelmed by the scope and scale of the challenges, we need exposure to films that fill us with hope and highlight the solutions to the problems that many already understand.
That’s why it’s great to see films in this year’s program, which are showcasing new ideas, especially Future of Energy: Lateral Power to the People, which explores fresh ideas like community power, B-Corps, divestment and smart technologies.
With such a specific focus, is it difficult to source films for the festival?
Not at all, we watched over 150 films this year. It has been inspirational to see how many films like this are being made
There has also been a really exceptional level of quality this year with many of the films being funded by large organisations like Sundance, BritDoc, and Pulitzer.
Technology has a key role in many of the films, how do you see technology’s place in community and global transitions in the modern world, and do you see the positive effect outweighing the negative impacts?
That’s true, and it depends on what you mean by technology. We have solar power schools empowering children in Easy Like Water, the internet empowering villages in WEB, an exploration of the renewables in Future of Energy: Lateral Power to the People, but we also see the negative impact that technology can have; like the destruction that can be enabled as drilling technologies advance, which is explored in Aim High in Creation; or the alienating effect that too much technology and not enough nature can have on our health and world views.
… technologies are becoming increasingly affordable and have enormous potential to change the lives of the most vulnerable people on the planet and accelerate the transformation into a global, interconnected society.
Technology will definitely play decisive role in determining the shape of the future, with both positive and negative ramifications. We’re already seeing huge shifts being brought about by disruptive technologies like the massive new wave of online courses, the explosion of crowd funding websites, the birth of alternative currencies and the growing impact of 3D printing. The other day I was reading about a printer that could print a house in less than a day, so the possibilities are mind-boggling. We can see that these technologies are becoming increasingly affordable and have enormous potential to change the lives of the most vulnerable people on the planet and accelerate the transformation into a global, interconnected society. When you combine these with developments in the non-digital space like nanotechnology and biotechnology it becomes pretty obvious that the world of 2050, for good or bad, is going to be unrecognisable.
There are a lot of techno-optimists out there, like Ray Kurzweil, Jason Silva, Peter Diamandis, and so on, who think that technology will lead us to a utopian world of immortality, unlimited abundance and cosmological consciousness or a ‘technological singularity’, but whether or not this new world will arrive before the threats of ecological and economic collapse that come from peak oil, resource scarcity and the impacts of climate change are realised is hard to say.
We’re optimistic. The important thing is to make sure that access to technology is open and free and that power isn’t concentrated to heavily in the wrong hands. That’s why it’s so important that more people are engaged with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that is currently being negotiated, seemingly in secret. It is the biggest free trade agreement ever negotiated and covers environmental regulation, pharmaceutical agreements and, importantly, sections related to intellectual property and regulation that could determine the future of the internet. I’ve been really surprised with how many people haven’t heard about it.
Transitions Film Festival is now in its third year, how is the festival itself evolving and what visions do you have for it in the future?
The Transitions Film Festival has had a great response. We looking to expand nationally and welcome any suggestions for new screening locations. We’re also hoping to develop a resources section of our website and continue to scour the globe for the most inspirational films we can find. We’re easily reachable through the contact page on our website.