A still from Jennifer Abbott's The Magnitude of All Things (2021)
Stories about the urgency of climate change and its destruction in various forms are a striking reminder that now is the time to act. Wildfires are raging, sea levels are rising, more species are going extinct. For the people on the frontline of devastating effects, the climate crisis is not a ‘future’ problem to kick down the road. It’s happening now. The time for action is now. The destruction of mother earth is personal destruction, and the onus is on collective action. The Magnitude of All Things, a new documentary by Jennifer Abbott, draws parallels between personal and planetary experiences of grief. The worldwide loss of livelihood woven together with the loss of someone who meant the world to somebody else. When Abbott lost her sister to cancer, her grief drove her to action. The Magnitude of All Things is a deeply personal letter to the continuous cycle of grief and coming out the other side with an open curiosity to live through each day to the fullest.
Hope can be a double edged sword. To hope for the best, enables the assumption that everything will be okay, that everything will work itself out. When all hope is lost, sometimes that is what pushes intention over the edge. When hope goes, action begins. Abbott’s documentary treads a very fine line between the different motivators. What propels her as a filmmaker, weaving into moments of reenactment to honor her sister’s spirit. Abbott also explores what propels various climate activists from around the globe, including Greta Thunberg who gives some insight into how her course of action began from attending school to leading enormous marches. Watching hope unexpectedly surround her as crowds populated with younger generations. Stories from perspectives such as Thunberg’s merge often with Abbott’s own recollections about her sister’s life and the childhood they shared. So much so that the parallels are jarring.
The shift from real-life footage and interviews to reenactments of personal history feel like multiple projects rolled in one. Though the raw emotion is touching, the reenactments play out as dramatic commercials and only emphasize an already strong lack of subject focus. What ties all the perspectives together is interesting…the magnitude of all things, the collective responsibility of human beings to protect this planet. Firsthand testimony shows reflections of personal, ecological, cultural loss. The threat of resources destroyed before your eyes, the uncertainty of not knowing the future are such emotionally charged threats. There’s a moving nostalgia to some of the testimony, like being wistful about not getting to experience a way of life that was more naturally resourceful from an environmental state.
The Magnitude of All Things doesn’t quite come together in the way that it has the potential to, but Abbott takes an interesting route in bridging an empathetic perspective of personal loss with that of planetary grief. The documentary is an urgent reminder of the many people protecting the rights of nature, which is not strictly environmental. It’s a protection of self, family, forests, ecological systems, ultimately the world around us. With a resounding message that lays a path from grief to action, The Magnitude of All Things listens to the voices of a world being lost before our eyes.
The Magnitude of All Things screened as part of the 2021 Devour! Fest program. The 11th edition of Devour! The Food Film Fest runs from October 18-24, 2021. Visit devourfest.com for tickets and a full program lineup.