The rise of the film ‘Demain‘ appears unstoppable. Viewed in France now by almost a million people, winner of the Cesar award for Best Documentary, the film has been received with standing ovations, and has inspired many to roll their sleeves up and do things. Rob Hopkins’ of the Transition Network’ interviews director Cyril Dion.
The rise of the film ‘Demain‘ appears unstoppable. Viewed in France now by almost a million people, winner of the Cesar award for Best Documentary, lined up for release in at least 30 other countries, the film has been received with standing ovations, and has inspired many people to roll their sleeves up and do things everywhere it has screened. As we will hear next week, it has also proved the most amazing platform for Transition groups. Last week director Cyril Dion attended, with co-producer Melanie Laurent, a screening of the film at the UN in New York where David Nabarro, Advisor to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, told them, “this film should be part of the training of all the political leaders of this planet.” We spoke to him recently, and asked him to tell us more about himself:
I did many things in my life. I used to be an actor, when I was a teenager, just after school. I studied natural medicine, reflexology, and I did that in some companies, in Warner Music, in Sony Music, I used to give massages to stressed people who were so afraid to lose their jobs in their music industry, they used to cry actually after 10 minutes of massage, they were so stressed and so tense!
I spent five years organising Israeli-Palestinian Congresses. I organised the first and second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace in Brussels and Seville. We tried to gather something like 300 of the most eminent leaders of the Muslim and Jewish world to make them live together for four days. It was an incredible experience.
I spent seven years organising a movement around the ideas of Pierre Rabhi, named Hummingbird (‘Colibris’). We started with me in an office, now we are 200,000 people in France, and in other French-speaking countries. I also co-founded a magazine, called Kaizen, designed to show some great initiatives all around the world, trying to re-invent society. And a book series for a French publisher named Actes Sud with the French name ‘Domaine du Possible’, like the ‘Field of Possibles’, something like that. I’m still doing that.
I burned out. I was doing too many things, and trying to save the world, but I can’t save the world on my own. It was a funny experience because in summer 2012 I was collapsing inside and I read the study that we are talking about at the beginning of the movie, talking about the possible collapse of our societies, and it’s been like the two things were, you know, confronting. I just thought I need to do what I’m dreaming to do for so many years. I’ve always been writing – I published a book of poetry last year. I desperately need to create. I realised I had to gather the two things that are most important thing in my life, creation and activism. That’s the moment where I decided to do this movie, that I have been writing for two or three years. I said to myself, “Okay, this is the time to do it.” And I did.
My message to the Transition movement is a huge “thank-you”. Transition has been a movement that inspired me a lot. When I discovered Transition in 2008, it was like, “Wow, we’re trying to do the same thing in France with Colibris” – incredibly. But actually I discovered many other things in Transition, especially when I came to see you and Ben and the people in Totnes in 2008, the first time. I still have my notes: “I want to come back to do the movie in this place”.
What inspired me a lot is the idea of a narrative, of telling a story. I think I grabbed it from you, partly. From you and other people, but you were one of the people who kept saying that all the time. It inspired a lot because I felt that it was really a powerful thing to do.
I was really inspired by this movement that wasn’t trying to change the world. It was trying to get people together and I still remember – I don’t remember if you said it, or Ben – saying:
“The most important thing in this movement is the social part of it. It’s to get people together. Because if we really get in trouble in the next decade, we will need to know our neighbours and to work together”.
And I always remember that. At some point I was even thinking to make a movie about the Transition movement. After that, I was thinking the Transition movement is everywhere. Not only in the Transition Network sign and logo, but all those people, for me, that we went to see all around the world, are part of the Transition movement, even if they don’t know about it. It was a great feeling to realise that all these people are doing the same thing without knowing each other, but at many points of the globe, who are having the same thought about the future. All that you did in the movement, was a great, great inspiration for this movie. So I’m really happy if now it’s a tool that you can use and if it’s a help for the movement to grow.
Everywhere we went we were thinking that we were going to see spectacular things and we never did, actually. And every time we realised that the most important thing about the initiatives we were shooting were the people. Some of these stories just moved us in a different way, because of our own sensibility. Personally I was really shocked by Detroit, because it’s a really shocking experience to go there. You just walk around in a ghost city mostly. There is this kind of fascination for the ruins, for the civilisation collapsing. You cannot help but think it could happen to us.
The other story that moved me a lot was the school in Finland, because I just hated school so much. When I was there, it was like a mix of anger and joy. Anger, not to have known a school like that when I was a kid, and not to have a school like that in my backyard for my kids. I was really impressed by the atmosphere in the school. Not that much by the teaching, and so on, but by the way people were feeling over there. You could feel that people were feeling good.
The main impact of ‘Demain’ on my life is that I’m travelling a lot. The last plane I took was 2007 I think, and since we began the movie, I’m on a plane, on a train all the time, something I do not like that much, even though it’s great to meet all these people. People recognise me in the street, and chase me to thank me. It’s really moving sometimes and also sometimes you would like to be just anonymous and quiet.
The French government asked me to be one of the Councillors of Ségolène Royal, Minister for Ecology (in France). I refused because they wanted to grab the success of the movie, to use it for their publicity. We have now a strong debate in France about many subjects – about nuclear power, about pesticides. There is a debate right now in the Parliament about it, and they are so disappointing. They have been talking to us a lot, saying that the movie was great, that they wanted to work with us, and they are just doing the opposite. There is no need to spend too much energy with these people in my opinion.
On the other hand, we see many things moving in cities and in towns. We organised six or seven screenings with all the politicians of areas in France. So where I live, in La Rochelle, in Grenoble, in the south, near St. Tropez, it’s really surprising to see how many of them are coming and they want to do things.
It’s impossible for us right now to collect everything that is happening. We are receiving 50-100 messages a day from people asking us to come to support some initiatives or telling us what they’ve done in their life or in the place they live. It’s incredible. I met last week a woman who told me that she saw the movie, and she used to be in intensive farming and she decided to quit and do permaculture. She actually split with her husband because her husband didn’t want to change!
She said, “OK – I’ve spent 20 years with you now, and it’s over, I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to do that, and if I have to separate from you, I will.” And she did. She came to me just to tell me that and she was shiny, so happy. It’s incredible. What is really incredible is that you cannot imagine the impact that a single movie can have sometimes on the life of people.
When you hear the stories of the people, it’s amazing. It’s incredible. I actually cried when this lady came. Not only because of her story but because of that, because of the impact it can have. I was just saying to myself, “My god, it was the right thing to do.”
I’m already trying to write a new movie. It’s going to be easier to fund it actually! It’s going to be a fiction, with actors. I’d like to tell the next step because all around the world, the people like you that we met, at one point usually told us “if we have 20 years in front of us, and if we want things to move really fast, at some point we will have to gather at a larger scale. To be millions of people to grab this power again, at a local scale, but also at a national and an international scale”.
I would love people to come out of the next movie saying, “Okay, we’re going to do it. We’re going to do this kind of revolution, or so-called revolution.” I’m really interested in that, in how it could happen. Not in the old-fashioned way, like a revolution and we exchange our tyrant for another one. But how could people, in a non-violent way, but in a really powerful way, change the system? And since it doesn’t really exist now, I guess we have to imagine and write it.
The question of whether Melanie and I are a couple is a huge question all around the world, especially in the tabloids in France! We’re not. We’re really good friends. ‘Demain’ has affected the choices that she’s making now. She became a vegetarian a few months after me. She was like, “Okay, now what do I look like? You became a vegetarian and I’m not.” She’s not living the same way in her day-to-day life. She’s not making the same choices on the places where she buys stuff, on the way she educates her son.
She’s not doing advertising any more. That was a huge conversation we had about advertising as a powerful tool of this model of consumerism. That was a strong choice to make. Most actors and actresses do advertising for their image, not only for money. When she decided to break that, she told her agents not to give her any proposals about that anymore. Her agent was like, “Huh? What? Sorry? Why? Why?” It’s funny. She’s kind of proud of that now.
A few weeks ago a large cosmetics company asked her to be one of the girls on their advertising and she said no. She said, “I don’t want to be your image for many reasons, especially because of what you do with animals, but also because you are trying to destroy everything in the world just to be the big leader.” To have two billion clients and so on. I’m proud of her doing that.
Actually what makes me optimistic is not what we saw during the shooting, because I knew pretty much all the things we were going to see. What is making me very optimistic is the reaction of the audiences. We are going to reach 1,000,000 viewers in France.
The movie is going to be in around 30 countries. It gives me the feeling that many, many people are ready to do something if we give them the right story. The right offer, I would say.
Many political parties came to me to have a conversation about that in the last few weeks. I was just telling them that you are not making any offer that is desirable for people. They just don’t want to be with you, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to change society. That they are not interested in the things that you are talking about. But you haven’t put it the right way. I think it is going to be a real issue in the future. Because we see that people want to move.