There was a time when in the UK you could barely go five minutes without hearing the words “Extinction Rebellion” (XR). They were everywhere. A climate activism group co-founded by Roger Hallam, Gail Bradbrook, and Simon Bramwell in 2018. XR stood on a platform of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Rebellion (2022) directed by Maia Kenworthy and Elena Sánchez Bellot, is a documentary that follows a number of activists involved in XR from the early days of protests through the infame they found right until their ongoing work of today.
XR began, as Kenworthy and Bellot document, as a grassroots movement with three primary demands. Tell The Truth. Net-Zero by 2025. Citizens’ Assembly. They became a household name in 2019 when they occupied Central London in April by blocking traffic, supergluing themselves to Shell HQ, smashing windows, graffiting, and most memorably by bringing a hot pink boat to the streets.
As someone from the UK, I was already very familiar with the actions of XR and remember clearly following the headlines about some of their more controversial acts of protest. I would consider myself to be an environmentalist and fundamentally have supported the demands of XR, however, like many I was sometimes concerned. It was my previous knowledge of XR that drew me to this film when offered the opportunity to review it for ReFrame.
Rebellion is filmed through both on-the-ground video of the actions of XR since 2018, and a series of talking heads in 2021 with key members of the group discussing their experiences in XR. These insights are what gives this documentary such a unique representation of XR as the audience sees faces and names that have become familiar from protesting and being arrested for who they are beyond the headlines.
“If you could go back in time, would you join Extinction Rebellion again?” - Maia Kenworthy, 2021
One of the main themes of the documentary is looking into the interpersonal relationships between members of XR, especially co-founder Roger Hallam and his daughter Savannah Lovelock. Throughout the documentary, the relationship between Savannah and her father becomes more strained as they navigate being co-activists and family whilst frequently in disagreement. When speaking about why she chose to join a movement knowing that it could (and would) lead to arrest, civil disobedience, and distress, Savannah looked to her parents and their role in influencing her. “That’s what the aware people in my life were doing.” It is through this we understand Savannah and how she became heavily involved in a movement she would go on to find did not represent her.
“Wondering why no one had put the word justice into the soup” - Farhana Yamin, 2018
A major turning point, not only in the documentary but for XR as a whole, was the growing frustration of members with the leadership. Roger Hallam is often described as having “tunnel vision” regarding the cause and had specific ideas of what success would look like. He boldly believed that “if you’re not in prison, you’re not in resistance” and that success could be measured in arrests. Alejandra Piazzolla Ramirez, a member of XR Youth, and Farhana Yamin, a lawyer and architect of the Paris Agreement, both speak throughout the film about how XR became a microcosm of the larger climate action movement in that it was being led by a small group of white men who pushed their ideals and ideas onto the whole movement. At this time, XR began to split with acts of protest being rejected by different offshoots. Groups like XR Youth moved to focus more heavily on education and justice and diversifying the voices that represented the climate movement.
“I didn’t want the same world but eco” - Alejandra Piazzolla Ramirez, 2021
By the final part of the documentary, Kenworthy and Bellot bring together the timeline of the talking heads and the on-the-ground footage as we see where the featured members are today. This demonstrates not only how these people have changed due to their experiences in XR, but reminds us that their stories are ongoing, as is XR’s story. Although many are no longer involved with the Extinction Rebellion movement, they continue to work toward climate justice.
So remember. Demand of your government; Tell The Truth.
The 2023 ReFrame Festival runs from January 26th-February 3rd. A list of films, tickets to events and screenings, and more information can be found on the Festival Website.
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