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Continuing my quest to watch a year’s worth of documentaries in the last quarter of the year, I went to see a double-bill of films showing as part of the Take One Action film festival.

This year mark’s the festival’s tenth anniversary, as a project to get more people to see more films about issues of social and environmental justice and concerns. And through this inspire people to make changes in their own locale, empowering them to feel like they can make a difference. (Their slogan being a nice riff on the over-quoted ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’.)

Bending the Arc
Bending the Arc is almost a bio-pic of a NGO. It’s as much a profile of Partners in Health as it is one of the people who founded it. But in a way that’s fitting, because however charismatic and committed those central figures are, they appear united in a certainty that the work is by far and way more important then any one of them. There’s a refreshing honesty about their past failures and mistakes along the way. Along with a willingness to stop and reassess why things aren’t working and try something different. They all – particularly Paul Farmer and Jim Yong Kim – seem viscerally aware that their successes and failures are counted in human lives. That the price of losing these battles and campaigns is paid in the lives of patients and colleagues and friends.

(An unexpected part of the film, was the advocacy of the – former, but current at the time – Rwandan Minister for Health, Agnes Binagwaho with her big dreams and her enthusiastic commitment to the good they’ve been able to do together.)

In other ways the film is also an explanation for how Jim Yong Kim ended up being President of the World Bank. (The more I read about the World Bank, the weirder an organisation it seems to be.) The film may well downplay how controversial his tenure there has been, but honestly I feel the whole point of giving him the job was for his to be controversial and try different things. Whether they work is a matter for time to tell.

Thank You For The Rain
Thank You For The Rain is probably as different a film from Bending the Arc as its possible to get. It’s a film that grows and changes as it goes along. Evolving from a film about a Kenyan farmer campaigning within his community to minimise the damage of climate change to that community, following him through his transformation into a climate campaigner, into a collaboration between the director and Kisulu as they work together to bring the voices of people living on the frontline of climate change to the people who make the policies and hold the power.

Kisulu’s video diaries prove the driving force to reshape both the film and the arguments within it. His desire to be heard and to make a difference, the determination and optimism that he continues to exude in the face of varied set backs is both inspiring and something of an inditement of the politicians and policymakers. His deeply felt understanding and articulation of the fact that time is short but its not yet too late, is an idea that keeps coming up again and again in recent discussions of climate change.

There’s something slightly eerie about seeing the Paris 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference from a completely different perspective than it appeared in An Inconvenient Sequel. There’s a weird sense of having seen behind the curtain having watched both films, fascinating to compare two very different forms of campaigning and advocacy, but a little weird all the same.

As different as the two documentaries in the double-bill were, they do have something fundamental in common. A conviction, deeply embedded rather than merely paid lip-service to, that in order to really help people in these marginalised communities, you have to work with them and listen to – and amplify – what they have to say and what they actually need. That the solutions to the major issues currently plaguing the world need to be collaborative endeavours to have any chance of making a real long term difference.

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