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Documenting Human Beingswho Can Dream: Jerry Rothwell and His Body of Work

It’s not easy to find a consistent style indocumentary as the one Jerry Rothwell presentsin his films. At least this can be said from whatwe can see on the outside. Some may pointout the similarities between his debut film,Deep Water (2006) and his recent work, Howto Change the World (2015). Despite the distanttime frame between both films, it is true that onecan detect a similar style. By having a narratorread the documentations left behind by thelate subjects, and adding inserts of interviewsfrom survivors as well as footages with thelate subjects present in the moving images,he draws all these elements into his world ofdocumentary. This format can be found in hislatest work, Sour Grapes (2016). On the otherhand, Heavy Load (2008), Donor Unknown (2010)and Town of Runners (2012) are the results ofyears of following and observing his subjects.Discrepancies are also noticeable as much assimilarities in these three films. For example,the presence of the filmmaker is prominent inHeavy Load. As the person behind the camera,we occasionally notice his shadow, and in onescene, he even reverses roles to get the subjectto shoot him on camera. But never again doeshe appear in his films. Instead of insisting onone particular thing, he seems to be a filmmakerwhodetermines the format of his film based onsubject matter and theme.

The foremost aspect I have discovered is the‘public-friendly’ nature of Rothwell’s films.

I hope this does not lead to any misunderstandingfor it does not mean his films lack artisticqualities or character. Moreover, it’s not someobscure generalization because I might betoo lazy to explain his body of work. Duringthe process of going through his films fromhis debut to his latest work, I realized howentertaining Rothwell’s films are. If the abilityto make me forget the pressures of writingand immerse myself into his films is not hisstrengths than what are? What is the use of themost well-intended documentaries if nobodywants to watch them? And to add a ratherfoolish question, “Why are Rothwell’s films alot of fun?,” the answer lies in their ‘genreoriented’nature. ‘Genre’ is a term rarely usedwhen referring to adocumentary. However, itisthis genre-orientation of Rothwell’s films thathelps one step closer to the core of the issue.At face value, Deep Water and How to Changethe World seem like a chronological revelationof historical facts. But when you look closer,you can tell how delicately and meticulously theimages and interviews are arranged, and as aresult, create a special rhythm to the film. Mostof the subject matters he uses are ones that youcan figure out the ending if you search throughthe Internet. Nevertheless, his films keep youon your toes until the very end as if you arewitnessing what’s happening right in front ofyour eyes.But it’s not like he’s always focusedon raising your heart rate. Heavy Load or DonorUnknown presents you with peaceful bliss as ifyou are setting out on a journey with the maincharacter. Rothwell’s films are documentariesthat never fall short of a well made drama.

Another aspect of Rothwell’s films is theconsistent theme. In each film, he movesbetween different subject matters, but whatconnects his body of work is ‘human dreams’.Apart from his genre-orientation, the charactersin his films embody the naked face. Some arepeople who passed away decades ago, whileothers areyoung people who have just set footin the real world. What they all share is a dreamthey have inside them. A head of family in histhirties single-handedly embarks on a worldtour on his yacht (Deep Water), a punk bandincluding members with disabilities play musicto enjoy the moment (Heavy Load), and a manwho donated his sperm years ago when hewas young liberates himself from an oppressivesystem to lead the liberal life of a bohemian(Donor Unknown). A teenage girl desperateto escape her given environment continuesrunning in order to become a long-distancerunner, and a male journalist is transformedinto an environmental activist (How to Changethe World). The important fact is, Rothwelldoes not document the very moment they fulfilltheir dreams. They mostly fail, and even havebad dreams as in Sour Grapes. What Rothwellrecords is the human being who dreams, notwhether their dreams come true or not. It’slike his films are telling us that humans mustcontinue dreaming.And through this process,they should find their own happiness. This iswhat makes me want to be a supporter of hisoptimism. (LEE Yong Cheol)

How to Change the Worldl하우 투 체인지 더 월드

  • Director : Jerry ROTHWELL
  • Nation : UK, Netherlands
  • Year : 2015
  • Running Time : 109min
  • Genre : Documentary

Screening Schedule

Date Time Venue Ratings Subtitles GT
2017-05-20 16:00 GT



In 1971, a group of friends sail into a nuclear test zone and their protest captures the world’s imagination, giving birth to Greenpeace and defining the modern green movement. Media savvy from the beginning, these pioneers captured their seat-of- their pants activist adventures on 16mm film. This insightful film is a vibrant, moving reflection on the struggle to balance the political and the personal.

-Program Note

In 1971, a small group of activists set sail from Vancouver, Canada with an old fishing boat. Their mission was to stop President NIXON’s atomic bomb test in Amchitka, Alaska. Although they could not get past the US Coast Guard, their pioneering effort was made known through media and eventually put an end to the US nuclear experiment. That was the birth of the global environmental organization we now know as Greenpeace. The documentary How to Change the World chronicles the history of Greenpeace, centering on environmental activist Robert HUNTER. Structured around some key events, this documentary successfully captures the early pioneers’ daring actions – The ideals they pursued in the 1970s and endeavor to fulfill their goal. Following the action against the atomic bomb test, Robert HUNTER led the Greenpeace expedition to stop the hunting of whales. A former journalist, HUNTER believed in the power of media and used it to full effect to draw the public’s attention to whales. In order to make known the fierce battle he and his team were fighting, he repeatedly risked the danger of sailing between whaling inflatable ships on fast boats called Zodiacs. Thanks to such a bold and ingenious method of protesting, Greenpeace emerged as an environment organization famous for their use of visual images. Director Jerry ROTHWELL uses the group’s archive footage, which is thrilling and full of energy, and at the same time. He uses interviews with Greenpeace activists to fill the gap between archive footages. In 2015, the film won the World Cinema. (SONG Kyung Won)

- Director

Jerry ROTHWELL is a documentary filmmaker whose work includes the award winning feature films: How to Change the World, about the founders of Greenpeace; Town of Runners, about two girls in an Ethiopian village who aspire to be athletes; Donor Unknown, about a sperm donor and his many offspring; Heavy Load, about a group of people with learning disabilities who form a punk band, and Deep Water (co-directed with Louise OSMOND), about Donald CROWHURST's ill-fated voyage in the 1968 round the world yacht race. His latest film is Sour Grapes (co-directed with Reuben ATLAS), a film about a wine counterfeiter. At Met Film Production, he has exec-produced and worked as an editor on numerous feature docs including Dylan WILLIAMS’ Men Who Swim and Sarah GAVRON's The Village at The End of The World.


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