By Nelson Graves

Are you depressed by doomsday forecasts that see our planet and species hurtling irreversibly towards disaster?

A French documentary to be featured soon in movie theaters around the world offers an antidote. “Demain” (Tomorrow) tackles planetary problems — climate change, food shortages, difficulties establishing democracy — and proposes grass-roots solutions.

Its subtitle could have been “Think Globally, Act Locally” because the film spells out steps each of us can take in our own communities, steps that according to the movie’s authors might stave off doom if multiplied.

“We didn’t start with, ‘Shall we save the planet?’ because that was too grand. We just start with where we are,” says one activist in the film.

The directors, Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, were spurred into action by a 2012 article in Nature magazine. A group of 22 scientists led by Anthony Barnosky and Elizabeth Hadly said planet earth is approaching a tipping point that could soon spell disaster for humans unless we change our behavior.

The scientists pointed to population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems and climate change as threats to the biosphere.

It shows small-scale initiatives that each of us could take.

Optimists at heart, Dion and Laurent proposed a film that would explore small-scale innovations in agriculture, energy, economy, democracy and education. True to the grass-roots nature of the innovations, Dion and Laurent then launched a crowd-funding campaign that attracted 10,266 donors and raised half a million dollars — a world record for a documentary movie.hope

The result is a full-length documentary with an original sound track by Swedish musician Fredrika Stahl that has attracted nearly 900,000 viewers in France before it goes overseas, including an inaugural U.S. viewing at the United Nations headquarters in New York at the end of this month.

So what’s so different about “Demain” — winner of Best Documentary at France’s version of the Oscars?

It shows small-scale initiatives that each of us could take. “People want to dream about their new house, to sketch out drawings with their architect. Well, the architect’s drawings of the society of tomorrow don’t exist,” Dion said.

Entrepreneurs and activists

Dion and Laurent traveled to 10 countries to speak to entrepreneurs and activists. Here are some examples:


Vandana Shiva

Agriculture: Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya has set up 122 seed banks across India and trained more 500,000 farmers in sustainable agriculture. Part of its mission is to empower women.

Energy: Robert Reed of Recology discusses San Francisco’s plan to recycle 100% of its waste by 2020.

Economy: Rob Hopkins recounts how his Transition Network organization has transformed the landscape of the English city of Totnes, including its money.

Democracy: Belgian historian David Van Reybrouck recommends selecting political representatives by lottery, to reinvigorate democracy.

Education: Kari Louhivuori, principal of the Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in a suburb of Helsinki, discusses how Finland’s educational system produces some of the world’s strongest students without standardized tests or national inspectors.

Actions that can make a difference


Rob Hopkins

On their website, Dion and Laurent propose everyday actions “that can really make a difference”:

  • eat more organic food and less meat
  • opt for a renewable energy supplier
  • buy in local and independent shops
  • change your bank
  • recycle, repair, share

For the more community-minded:

  • transform your neighborhood into a vegetable garden
  • create a citizen’s community to produce renewable energy
  • create a complementary currency
  • create an alternative school
  • run for office in your home town

A glimmer of hope

Proponents of change, Dion and Laurent are aware of ironies inherent in their cinematic exploit.

To travel to the 10 countries, they flew in jets — which, of course, are huge polluters. They supplemented small donations from the crowd-funding with hefty sums from corporate sponsors. They charge admission at commercial movie theaters, generating an old-fashioned and not so altruistic profit.

A small dose of hypocrisy, they said, for a weighty documentary that has been as popular as big budget French entertainment films. And which Dion and Laurent hope will pave the way to followup exploits in the future.

In the end, “Demain” might seem a Utopian dream that will go the way of the idealistic protests that rocked France in the spring of 1968 and which petered out over time.

But with politics so polarized at national and international levels and global solutions to our most pressing problems so elusive, grass-roots initiatives offer a glimmer of hope in an age of mounting fear.

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