VIFF Review: ‘The Magnitude of All Things’ looks at climate change through the lens of personal loss.

The planet is changing. Many still deny it, but I honestly cannot understand how. As of this writing, North America is being battered by storms on one side and wildfires on the other, both with unprecedented frequency and destructive power. Countries like the Maldives are disappearing as the sea level rises, permafrost in the arctic is melting as the temperature rises, and entire ecosystems are collapsing around the world.

And yet people still deny it.

The Magnitude of All Things, the new documentary from director Jennifer Abbott, explores much of this change. There is not a lot of new information here if you have been paying attention to the world, but Abbott takes a different route to this information: grief.

Abbott frames the way our society is dealing with climate change through the lens of her sisters terminal illness, and the grief she felt following her sister’s death. She draws a direct line from that personal grief to the grief of those people whose homes are being threatened, impacted, or even destroyed by climate change.

Of all the stories presented there is one common thread: money. Those doing the damage, are more concerned with the money than they are with the people being affected.

Again, this is not new information. Living through late-stage capitalism has made none of this surprising, only disappointing. As many of the stories in The Magnitude of All Things are about industries moving into an area and colonizing it as they are of changing weather patterns wreaking havoc.

What, then, is the answer. The film profiles those both inspired by hope and by hopelessness, and the common answer is that we need to see a profound shift in the way we think as a society. Is that a spoiler for the end? Well, kind of, but there’s no way you wouldn’t see it coming.

Tying the story of the ecosystem changing to the terminal illness of her sister does allow Abbott to draw a direct emotional line between one type of loss and the other, and forge an emotional connection with the fate of our world. I always worry that documentaries such as this end up preaching to the choir, that those who ultimately need to be convinced will not engage with the message. I hope that this film changes that, even a little bit because we are running out of time.

The Magnitude of All Things is a gorgeously photographed documentary that features many climate activists (including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and Australian Coral Reef expert Charlie Vernon) as well as a distinct emotional through-line. It is definitely one to add to your watch list.

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