Danish director Phie Ambo, who opens this year’s Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX) with “70/30,” an up-close look at the creation of Denmark’s landmark climate law, is already at work on her next project, “Organized Wilderness,” a film about the rewilding of a forest in northern Jutland.
The project is in line with some of Ambo’s recent documentary works that also deal with people and nature, including 2019’s “Rediscovery,” about a group of children discovering the wonders of nature, and, from 2014, “Good Things Await,” about an idealistic farmer and his biodynamic farm, and “Songs From the Soil,” a wordless film that examines the flora and fauna of a natural but cultivated wilderness.
In “70/30,” Ambo follows the efforts of climate minister Dan Jørgensen and politician Ida Auken as they try to pass one of the world’s most ambitious climate acts, which would aim to reduce Denmark’s carbon dioxide emissions by 70% by 2030 and make the country CO² neutral by 2050. The director also focuses on a group of young climate activists who are largely responsible for putting climate protection at the top of the political agenda.
The experience of making the film left Ambo optimistic despite having been a long-time climate activist herself. It also gave her greater appreciation for the work of political leaders. “I just realized that it’s really not that simple.” She was also relieved to see that many lawmakers really mean what they say and were “just as serious about this as a lot of climate activists are.”
“I feel hopeful about the democratic processes, but I definitely do not feel hopeful about positive feedback loops and the Amazon turning into a desert and the Arctic melting.” Those huge uncontrollable and catastrophic climatic developments remain terrifying, but Ambo is encouraged by what she sees as a growing movement. “I do feel that if we start to collaborate much more, and we lift our vision and look into the horizon … we could do really great things right now for humanity, because it seems like it’s a whole wave that’s starting.”
Indeed, Ambo stresses that much has changed in a short period of time. “That’s because of the children and the young people. They set a new moral standard. People who don’t even have the right to vote set the standard for the election.”
The leftist coalition government that passed the historic climate legislation came into power in 2019 having committed to the 70/30 goal early on.
“It’s interesting to see how these grassroots movements, how the people take to the streets and start to have real impact. We see these climate strikes all over the world. We see Fridays for Future taking to the streets everywhere.”
Seeing how empowering that can help other people feel that they matter and that they can do something, she adds: “What’s most dangerous in a democracy is that citizens feel that they don’t matter, that no one is listening and that they can’t change anything. It’s so important to show that in a democracy – it should matter.”
Similarly, Denmark’s actions will inspire other countries, she adds. Despite its small size, Denmark is the European Union’s biggest oil producer. Last year, however, the new government agreed to halt all oil excavation in the North Sea in 2050. While a major political achievement, it was a hollow victory for climate activists who only see 30 more years of oil drilling in precious marine habitats and continued burning of fossil fuels.
Ambo says oil excavation could nevertheless end earlier than planned, noting that once it’s become government policy, big business will begin withdrawing from the sector and support for the oil industry will wane. “We all know it’s bad for Planet Earth but it’s also going to be bad for your economy.”
She also praises the government’s visionary plans to build “energy islands.” An initial $30 billion project will see construction of an artificial island, a hub for 200 giant offshore wind turbines in the North Sea that could eventually supply electricity to 10 million homes, meeting all of the country’s electricity needs.
Ambo will continue documenting the relationship between humans and nature in “Organized Wilderness,” which follows an equally ambitious endeavor – the effort to restore biodiversity to an industrial forest area near the northern Danish city of Aalborg.
“It’s a long-term project because it takes a long time to revive dead nature. In Denmark we are the most farmed country after Bangladesh – we have 2% or 3% wild nature in Denmark, so nobody knows what wild nature looks like. … We’re completely detached from nature.”
Ambo notes that Denmark won’t be able to expand its natural forests unless the country starts shutting down the farming industry, which has “eliminated nature in Denmark.” Agricultural land makes up some 65% of the country, making the agribusiness lobby a powerful opponent.
The film will also examine humans’ place in nature. “It’s sort of an investigation of the clash between wild nature and our need to control as humans.”
Ambo describes the film as “a bit more philosophical” and more related to some of her other work in its tone.
The filmmaker started on the project in 2018 and expects to continue working on it for another three years. “I need to find another project in order to make a living,” she adds with a laugh.