Weaving together fiction, archive and documentary, Marten Persiel’s “Everything Will Change” is a dystopian movie that addresses one of the most urgent issues of our time – the extinction of wildlife.
Set in 2054, when wildlife has disappeared, it’s the story of three friends who go on a journey to discover what happened to their planet. The answer they discover lies in a decade – the 2020s – when a bright future was still possible, but a lack of action prevented the wholesale loss of once-abundant biodiversity.
German director Persiel previously helmed “This Ain’t California,” which won best film in Berlinale’s Perspektive section in 2012. “Everything Will Change” world premiered at the Zurich Film Festival last Friday as part of the Focus Competition. TF1 Studio is handling global sales on the film.
Speaking in Zurich, Persiel traces the inspiration for the film to a walk in Portugal, where he now lives. He heard one frog calling out, at a time of year when hundreds would usually be doing so in chorus. The reason? Intensive agriculture had drained all the water from the nearby river. “I realized that this lonely voice will not receive an answer, so will not be able to procreate.”
He also realized that future generations would not know what they were missing, as they would not have experienced it in the first place – with damaging consequences for the fight to preserve biodiversity. “The capacity for us to miss something is the capacity for us to care and do something,” explains Persil.
As such, the film is largely about “shifting baseline” syndrome, a concept that has quickly gained traction in environmental circles since it was first coined in the 1990s. In essence, it describes how humans have a poor conception of how much of the natural world has been degraded by our actions, because our “baseline” shifts with every generation.
By setting his film in 2054, Persiel allows audiences an opportunity to confront directly what they and the next generation will lose – and what they need to do to prevent it.
Persiel says his initial plan was to make an archive-based documentary about biodiversity and extinction. The fictional time travel element came later. He wanted to create an immersive experience for audiences rather than simply a documentary essay.
“I really believe in cinema as entertainment, and in the big screen,” he says.
The future of 2054 is brilliantly realized, all the more so given that it was largely shot in-camera and without visual effects. Persiel’s 2054 world is devoid of any wild nature, barren and flat. Thanks to colorized infrared camera technology, all greenery is rendered in a reddish hue which gives the earth a burnt, apocalyptic look.
From this perspective, his trio of characters have little conception of how varied wildlife was just 30 years ago. Research leads them to a remote “ark,” an institute full of scientists who tell them about climate change on Earth and the once-abundant biodiversity.
Persiel admits that “Everything Needs to Change” is, in many ways, a “devastating” movie for audiences to watch. However, the third act is more hopeful in that it offers potential solutions that humans can – and might – take to address the extinction crisis.
What is clear, though, is “Everything Needs to Change” is cinema as activism. It is also, says Persiel, “a labor of love.”