By Chris Saltmarsh
The combined cinematography and soundtrack of Demain (Tomorrow) were genuinely excellent, and were skilfully deployed by the filmmakers as part of the argument – or mission – of their project. Taking the viewer on a journey around the world, documenting projects, rooted in local communities, offering alternatives to the systems that have gotten us into the many messes we are currently trying to navigate: climate change, financial crises, poverty and inequality, health, and beyond. The mission was to visit and relay the many examples of the diversity of people taking it upon themselves to create their own alternative ways of organising their food, economies, education, energy and democracy to inspire viewers to do something themselves. Indeed, most people watching the film with us as part of Go Green Week 2017 were inspired because the film’s optimism-inducing audio-visuals, artistically accompanying the presentation of a string of supposedly exciting local projects collectively fed into a climactic sense of unfettered possibility. But despite the room of inspired smiling faces, the film left me angry and frustrated.
Some of the solutions documented were not fundamentally objectionable themselves; these ranged from permaculture and guerrilla gardening, to local currencies and renewable energy. However, others were more problematic. The film’s endorsement of slave labour (prisoners working for free – sorry, for ‘skills’ – manufacturing solar panels) was especially jarring. Additionally, devoting the entire ‘education’ section to glorifying Finland’s state education system; fetishising small business; and pining for Athenian ‘democracy’ did not sit comfortably. Especially so as none of the solutions proposed were subject to any critical interrogation, with none of the inevitable contradictions exposed or discussed. But all of these examples were uncomfortably transplanted into the films simplistic narrative that lots of things are happening in local communities, more need to happen, and you can do it. Many have praised the film’s optimism and inspiration to its viewers, but it felt as though its commitment to that mission trumped any critical discussion of what a coherent, holistic alternative would look like.
Indeed, the film lacked a rigorous politics or even an argument. My overarching frustration came from the disconnect between the globally growing plethora of local projects and the general worsening of our collective situation: runaway climate change, rising neo-fascism, strengthening borders, widening inequalities to name a few. If, as the film suggests, more local alternative projects (started by you, the viewer!) means an improving situation, why are things still getting worse? This gaping inconsistency was not addressed. It is important to recognise that, in places like Detroit where water is contaminated and it is almost impossible to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, guerrilla gardening is of huge significance to the sustenance of communities there. However, to valorise these ‘solutions’ as enough is to ignore that they do not address the root causes of the violences experienced by the people of Detroit. Local currencies do not and have not challenged the power of multinationals. Small businesses are not a vehicle to end capitalism. As fine as these things are, the film lacked a politics of how to connect them to a bigger struggle to transform the way our society, politics, and economics work. We won’t create a global alternative to capitalism by ignoring it, because it’s too powerful and dynamic. Without a cogent analysis of who has power; how, where, and why they wield it; and how we can take it from them, films like Tomorrow will only ever leave audiences with a fleeting feeling of inspiration, never channelled into productive struggle for a long-lasting world beyond capitalism of climate and social justice and collective liberation.
By Chris Saltmarsh