Through the camera lens of Emily James, we get a first-hand account of the direct action of a variety of environmental activists, who variously chain themselves together outside RBS, set up a camp in Trafalgar Square, break into a coal-fired power station and attend rallies in Copenhagen. But will any of this effect any change against the might of capitalism and the commercial interests of those contributing to adverse climate change?


The first and most interesting character we meet in this intriguing documentary is a middle-aged lady who has progressed from making tea for police and campaigners at various rallies and gatherings, to mucking into the more direct action itself. She makes it clear that she is deeply passionate and committed and although later on she expresses some frustration at the less than effective communication within these loosely affiliated groups, she stands by her adherence to consensus as the only viable way of moving forward. That consensus is beautifully demonstrated at the various meetings to which we are given access by way of hands held up and fingers wiggled – there are no personal agendas, no hierarchical politics, just determination, persistence and passion. It is exceedingly admirable.

What remains unanswered until the very end of this documentary, is whether any of this activity is producing quantifiable results. The various organisations (Climate Camp, Plane Stupid) are clearly able to raise their profile, generate awareness and get themselves on the news, but until the various footnotes before the closing credits, we see little evidence of any successful outcomes. For the most part these are relatively young campaigners, disturbed by the deterioration in the environment and eco-system that they see around them and vibrant in their enthusiasm for change. We get to see them planning events, practising how to attach themselves to each other and buildings so as to make it as difficult as possible for the authorities to remove them, communicating last-minute destinations so as to give them the jump on police barricades and generally getting themselves involved in what they feel most strongly about.

But this is not a review of their political ideals, or respective enthusiasms, rather a critique of the documentary itself and it is an equivocal review at heart. It represents a fascinating insight to direct action on climate change and it is particularly interesting to see the changes in how the police respond, following the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson and how much more oppressive the police presence and response was when the activists took their fight to Copenhagen. As a real fly on the wall, we get to see how events are planned and executed and a valuable insight into why the various individuals do what they do. What is perhaps lacking is an overall narrative arc, some sort of through-thread to tie it all together. What we get instead is a series of episodes, with no other underlying story or progression beyond, “this happened and then somewhere else something else happened”. It is also, inevitably, massively one-sided, though the documentary does an admirable job of refusing to demonise the British police for doing nothing more or less than their job.

No doubt the film-maker Emily James was not necessarily going for balance, or aiming for an Academy Award-nominated documentary. With little more in terms of resources than a cam-corder and access to the activists, she has done what she perhaps set out to do – portray the activities of a group of people of singular commitment and passion and raise awareness of the difference that such activities can make.

Given what a strong year it has already been for the documentary format (Countdown to Zero, TT3D: Closer to the Edge, Senna), Just Do It may get a little lost in the midst of such competition, but that would be a shame. Although it has its limitations, it is an interesting and informative piece and deserves some credit and attention. Just Do It: A Tale of Modern Outlaws is out now in UK cinemas.


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Dave Roper
Dave has been writing for HeyUGuys since mid-2010 and has found them to be the most intelligent, friendly, erudite and insightful bunch of film fans you could hope to work with. He's gone from ham-fisted attempts at writing the news to interviewing Lawrence Bender, Renny Harlin and Julian Glover, to writing articles about things he loves that people have actually read. He has fairly broad tastes as far as films are concerned, though given the choice he's likely to go for Con Air over Battleship Potemkin most days. He's pretty sure that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most overrated mess in cinematic history.