Presented at the Cannes Film Festival last July, the inspiring “Bigger Than Us” sets out to meet seven young activists who have decided to get involved in changing the world, at least repairing it. Meeting with its director Flore Vasseur.
For 6 years, Melati, 18 years old has been fighting plastic pollution which ravages her country Indonesia. Like her, a generation is rising to repair the world. Everywhere, adolescents and young adults are fighting for human rights, climate, freedom of expression, social justice, access to education or food. Dignity. Alone against everyone, sometimes at the risk of their life and safety, they protect, denounce and take care of others. Earth. And they change everything. Melati sets out to meet them across the globe. She wants to understand how to hold on and continue her action. From the favelas of Rio to the remote villages of Malawi, from makeshift boats off the island of Lesbos to Native American ceremonies in the mountains of Colorado, Rene, Mary, Xiu, Memory, Mohamad and Winnie reveal to us a magnificent world, that of courage and joy, commitment to greater than oneself. While everything seems or has collapsed, this youth shows us how to live. And what it means to be in the world today.
AlloCiné: What message do you want to convey with “Bigger Than Us”?
Flore Vasseur (director): Bigger Than Us is a film about people who stand up to all the challenges we face, and who do it in their corner, with their community, on all the important topics of the moment.
This is not a film focused solely on the environment, it is a starting point: we treat the environment as a symptom of a larger problem and of this interconnectedness of problems. Ultimately, it’s a film that really addresses the question of our system and the way we live.
And it turns out that these people who are taking action are very young, have been taking action for a long time, doing very concrete things that most adults have stopped doing. It’s a film about what it means to be alive in the world we live in today.
Are we, as Melati says in the film, the one who watches the train go by and waits for something to happen from heaven or the one who takes hold of the situation and who, somewhere, is going to take up arms? These weapons are solidarity, mutual aid, the will to be useful and to give meaning to one’s life. As it turns out, these people are indeed younger than most of us, but to me they were the great sages of the day.
It’s a film about what it means to be alive in the world we live in today.
The film also tends a mirror towards the viewer, at least the not so young, and puts them in an uncomfortable but necessary position in relation to their own inaction …
Maybe I did that, yes. It’s a trademark in everything I do, which is to want to question. And in particular to question our apathy, our refusal to change, our comfort and our love of comfort. I think I’ve always done that, actually.
I attended September 11, I was an entrepreneur at the time, I was in the corporate world, I was in something completely different. And there, this event took me out of my position of comfort: I doubted a lot, I cried a lot, I questioned a lot and I wanted everyone to share these questions. From the start, I’ve only been working on this. Try to decipher what is happening and come up with solutions.
It is true that we come out of Bigger Than Us with a message of hope and a desire to go there, but it is squealing on our responsibility… and not that of the generations before. But as Melati says, we no longer have the time to point the finger at who did what: we are in a level of urgency where it is no longer even worth asking the question. The only thing to do is to roll up our sleeves and find out what we can do right next to us, here and now. And it goes beyond an injunction or a moral approach.
What I found with them is that it is a great way to live your life: they are all wonderful with vitality, desire to live, joy. They have links everywhere. And we’re not talking about Instagram links, we’re talking about links to people in your neighborhood. Everything that makes life absolutely delicious. The connection to the other and to time. In the period we are living in, we are in social distancing from everything, by putting everything at a distance … And I think we all understood that this made us very unhappy, that we were drying up on the spot and that what was great was the connection to the other.
It’s a great way to live your life
The central question posed by the film is to abandon part of our comfort for the benefit of the common good and of Humanity. Do you think we are capable of this?
I believe we live in a society that has constructed this narrative of progress and comfort to hide a huge business of separation. Because I want to be comfortable, then I need air conditioning and a big car. I need to travel to the end of the world. I need to be better than others and besides, I am in competition with others all the time, etc …
And that is really a mantra with which we have been programmed and which means that we are today in this state of absolute emergency where we have monopolized absolutely everything that was possible: the Earth, resources, women often … We are in this relationship of domination which is only a rehash of the question of control and separation.
However, what they say is that we are one Earth, one people, one humanity. I know it sounds naive when you put it that way … But often the simplest things are the truest. And it is so true and so confusing of truth that we do not even dare to say it because we have the impression of not progressing. We forgot common sense.
It’s culture that can change us
Can this film, and cinema in general, change the world in your opinion, or at least help to change it?
Absoutely. And besides, not only cinema but art in general. I think we are really at a time when all the solutions to all our problems exist. There is no real problem apart from our cultural problem, our perception of what progress is and our perception of what the future is. It is this story that we miss and it is this state of mind that traps us. And it is culture that can change us.
We are in the battle of representing what is right and useful. As long as we haven’t won this battle, people won’t want to change because they don’t have a model to follow. They don’t have aspirations, they don’t have the new values, they don’t have the new representation of what the future may be … Apart from this disaster scenario story that no one wants to see , so that no one moves. All of this is closely linked.
So, if we change our way of seeing things, then there will be no problem for tomorrow morning, we say to ourselves “Hey, I could add a little useful thing to everything I do”. You see, we spent fifteen months wondering what useful work is. We all realized, 95%, that we were absolutely useless. So the question of utility in our own lives came crashing down on us. Perhaps the challenge is to look at this question positively and start trying to answer it.
And that’s not necessarily a 180 degree change. These are the very little things of everyday life. When you start with the little things of everyday life, the little thing leads to a bigger thing, etc. You enter into a process, a journey, a path. We’re not going to change the world, but you can change the world downstairs. And that is already huge. And if everyone does it, we change everything.
We, what we have tried to do is to pose new representations of Progress. I would like Melati and these young activists to be the new role models. I have children and I wonder who they can admire today? Don’t we have something else to offer them than celebrities and TikTok 15 seconds on makeup? Is that all we can do? And you, who hold a microphone, I who hold a camera or a pen, can’t we all be united in this story and say to each other that there may be something else to offer? And that is our responsibility?
Perhaps this is how this film industry, too, finds usefulness. In the same way that any industry must ask this question. So it is indeed a problem of culture. You can see that this is not a technological solution. It’s in us. Do we really want to live this life? Do we really want to be in that time? And what do we do there? That is a question for each of us. Earlier you mentioned the idea that the film could mirror you. In fact, that’s the question you are asked: and you, what do you do?