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Here Cooksey plays cards with dogs in a velvet painting to demonstrate a point about our multiply-converging dire predicaments. Funny, eh? Photo:

You know, when it comes right down to it, the impending collapse of the industrial economy, the rapid decrease of our energy supplies and the geopolitical tensions accompanying it, along with the escalating effects of global climate chaos are each, on their own, a drag. But put them together and it’s downright depressing.

So why not laugh about it?

That’s the response Vancouver filmmaker Jon Cooksey chose with his ambitious and insightfully practical film How to Boil a Frog.

Not that he finds the situation to be any kind of laughing matter. But he has tapped in to an important way to communicate tough issues to an increasingly distracted audience: make ’em laugh.

Hey, it works for Jon Stewart.

What child is this?

Cooksey begins by introducing us to his daughter, and telling us why her future meant he had to take action.

Of course, plenty of folks make the case that we ought to do something "for the kids." In one infamous example, "kingmaker" Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy Co., gave $2.5 million to the "And For The Sake of the Kids" PAC for a campaign against the reelection of a federal judge. In a blitz ad campaign, West Virginians were warned that if elected, his judgeship would cost coal jobs, thereby harming the kids of coal workers.

So the whole "do it for the kids" meme isn’t always a wholesome gambit. It’s long been used by and viewed cynically by politicians, even to pimp more mercury-releasing coal.

But that doesn’t matter to Cooksey, who took his inspiration from looking into the face of his daughter and gravely fearing for her future.

I can identify. With two daughters of my own I shudder to think that the upcoming generation of kids will inherit not only toxic American debt, but also toxic water, land, and air along with few means to grow food, stay warm, travel and pursue happiness. As a society, we don’t seem to care squat about this. It’s just not in our values set to prepare for the next generation other than through endless money growth with it’s devastating impact on earth as part of the price we pay.

I think we should be doing a whole lot more to wake up hearts and minds to what these poor kids will face. So Cooksey’s motivation worked for me just fine.

Jeremiah was a bullfrog

His other device was to compare our situation to that of boiling a frog.

You know, you throw a live frog into a boiling pot and he jumps right out, just as any of us would run if we were thrust into a dire situation at a moments notice.

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Movie poster for How to Boil a Frog. Image:

But put that same frog in a pot of water and slowly heat it to boil and he’ll croak alright…without making a croak.

Same with us.

The globe heats up, the economy goes into a slow death spiral and our energy dries up all around us as we blithely go along with business as usual, as unaware as a cartoon character head long toward an open manhole.

So we need to wake up. And Cooksey helps us do that with a clever telling of the science, resources, and economic realities we face. He presents it all with an edgier take on the whole Bill Nye the Science Guy vibe. Only, the PG-13 version.

And it works. You get informed while laughing, which is totally disarming. Plus there’s probably some study out there that says if you laugh while you learn you remember more. So there.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry!

Not that the film isn’t ass-kicking too.

There are some seriously harsh and unrepentant images of our copious trash build up, starving people, displacement, pollution, the industrial slaughtering of animals…the whole grizzly package. As the film’s trailer says, "this ain’t no sissy environmentalist movie."

In fact, those moments are rather unexpected since Cooksey takes you so far off guard with his wry explanations and imaginative renditions of the compound problems associated with population and resource overshoot.

Though he introduces himself as just a "regular guy" who’s not out to save the planet (which he says will survive with or without us) Cooksey easily plays a dozen different character types during the film, from a hippie-surfer type, to a lab-coated scientist, to a Wall Street moneybags to a Jersey Shore type, just tawlkin’ to hiz peeps.

All of this showcases a formidable talent for both thinking up this stuff and delivering it with aplomb. That he also provides inspiration for reaching out to others in your community and practical ways to deal with the predicaments is icing on the cake. Kudos to the one-man show.

Storytelling activism

We showed the film at our monthly Local Motion Transition film series and the guffawing was audible and regular. It also spawned an active post-screening conversation that pointed to the many positive solutions Cooksey details that individuals, families and communities can do to switch things up and begin to turn things around.

This was a particularly good feature of this film.

In many enviro-films, especially peak oil and climate change ones, we just get the diagnosis of the problem. But if you’re informed you already get the predicament.

If you’re new to the impending apocalypse triumverate, the last thing you want is to get sucker punched with abysmal hopelessness and be left with no tools to deal with the mind slaughter that ensues.

Other films can trend in the opposite direction, all Pollyanna-ish, as if six billion of us are going to escape our urban haunts to go raise chickens, weave linen, build human-scale hampster runs to generate our power and spread humanure on our non-GMO corn. Not likely.

How to Boil a Frog hits just the right middle ground between "you’re screwed" and "you have something to live for" and "here’s my top ten meaningful can-do solutions to start right now!"

I liked it.

As to pacing, there was one moment when the film seemed to be coming to an end and theeeeeeeeen suprise-suprise, ramped right back up for another twenty minutes or so. So, it could have used a few more edits to tighten up any repetition and keep it from trying to touch on everything under the sun. But that was a minor flaw over all. In general the movie ticked along at a good clip, with exellent graphics and solid production values.

Be here now

Finally, in spite of all the gags, the film brought in a refreshing and welcome take on human spirituality and political activism.

Cooksey included the importance of evolving consciousness to deal with our predicaments using the whole of our human faculties. Yet even this was made palatable in that he advocated no single religious or even spiritual value. He said you don’t have to bring your "spirit" into it from a decidedly spiritual vantage point, but simply for the awe at the wonder of life and the beauty of existence. So, it’s not preachy. It’s just that Cooksey says our interior life is an important ingredient in this transition. For those of us for whom soul life is a key aspect of life, this film offered an unflinching sense that the inclusion of such a perspective is worthy and might even make all the difference.

Cooksey’s other key advice is to "make trouble." Far from siting idly by and taking the corporate assault on our lives lying down, Cooksey advocates getting out there whenever possible and getting into the activism fray. Make calls, visit City Hall, stage protests, talk back, make films, use—whatever it takes to increase the chorus of voices speaking out and helping to spur change.

So if you’re looking for a new shot of inspiration, or need an ice breaker on these issues told with a light touch for your Transition group or other kind of community group, I give this one high marks. But come willing to be a little racy. This isn’t the ladies society tea type stuff.

In my book laughter goes a long way to keeping things in perspective.

We can only do so much, so fast while we’re in that pot of boiling water. If all we have is panic, our minds wont stay agile or open. So laugh a little with How to Boil a Frog. And then seriously get down to work.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice Magazine

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