To change the world with tech, you need to make more movies about it

- February 21, 2020 7 MIN READ
A scene from the documentary My Year of Living Mindfully


Documentaries abound at Melbourne’s Transitions Film Festival 2020, which began yesterday. The Startup Show co-founder Anna Reeves explains why we should all be watching more documentaries about the future.


Jetpack jokes aside, let’s face it: the science fiction fantasies we’ve grown up with are almost, if not already here.

And it’s likely that every touch point in our lives over the next 10 years will be disrupted by companies that do not yet exist today.  As the time window between science fiction and science fact continues to close, where does that leave the stories that serve as wake-up calls about our future?

Today, the most urgent wake up call is a result of our obvious and accelerating human impact on the planet. Whether you believe in “the science” or not, we can no longer afford to ignore the forces of nature that will impact our lives, our work and our families in coming years. In absence of political will, people are looking to companies and technology to help solve complex social and environmental problems, but even then, these are only part of the story.  Everything and everyone is connected by endless narratives, but we need to understand what they are to make sense of our place in them.

The truth is that the Anthropocene is undergoing a massive transition, but getting a grip on the scale and long-term repercussions is a difficult thing when you’re right in the middle of it. There’s never been a more important time for all of us to be involved in shaping what that future should look like, in particular, the collective preservation of the planet must be a priority for our own survival. How do we navigate this?

Atlassian chief, Mike Cannon Brookes has been a fearless advocate for business doing its part to solve the problems, with the intention that we can transition our economy through technology to become global leaders of new industry. Like most new things, this also needs a new story, one that transcends the polarisation of present day politics.



It starts with a vision. Stories help us see that vision, and “creative types” are good at helping us see it and feel it. Whereas sci-fi stories of the past stretched our imaginations into far flung fantastical versions, (check out Star Trek’s latest offering, Picard), with the current pace of technological progress, by the time a fictional film is written, pitched, funded, green-lit, cast, made and release, the “future” is almost an imminent if not true reality.

Today, documentaries are leading the charge in shaping visions of the future. In fact, trends show that documentary is reaching “a golden age” especially with young viewers, hungry to learn more about the world we live in and its future.

Last year a BBC executive was reported as saying the BBC’s nature documentary “Blue Planet II” was “the biggest show with young U.K. viewers ages 16 to 24, beating “The X-Factor” every night it ran for seven weeks. In China, the show got 250 million views on the Tencent Video platform, with 70% of audiences in the younger demographic”.*

These documentaries are no longer simply “documenting”. Modern documentarians are sophisticated, best-in-class storytellers, digging deep to show us future history and the dangers ahead, with interesting protagonists helping steer us through stormy waters. The heros are real life Captain Picards.

For the past 5 years, I’ve been an ambassador and host for the Transitions Film Festival, an impact film festival which year in year out, brings a line-up of some of the most cutting-edge documentaries about the existential challenges, mega-trends, game-changing technologies and creative visions that will shape our collective future. 

It’s not an ordinary film festival, it’s an impact film festival; fertile ground for people to see the world differently. The films showcase radical solutions from around the world and highlight how we can create meaningful action, usually followed by intimate discussions with some of the world’s leading experts, innovators and filmmakers. Past guests have included: Ronnie Khan (Founder Oz Harvest), David Ritter CEO Greenpeace, Australian Red Cross CEO Judy Slater, CEO of Bank Australia, Vishaal Kishore CEO RMIT Social Innovation Hub and Resilient Melbourne CEO Toby Kent. The one thing these people all have in common is that they all run large organisations, and have stepped outside of their comfort zones to participate in documentary storytelling in one way or another. 

Which brings me back to the ‘creative types’. We need to see more company leaders partnering with them, and participating in shaping new narratives around business and its impact on our planet. Festivals like this, give us moments to step back from the barrage of chatter in our social feeds. They allow us to be curious about the complexities of the world and to be inspired to think, feel and act outside our bubbles.

Festival Director, Daniel Simons calls this opportunity “the great holding space”, a place for people to feel part of a like-minded, passionate community, dedicated to getting sh*t  done – one that is growing larger every day.  

In the years that I’ve hosted panel discussions after each screening, I’ve seen the effects on people being inspired by these films. In 2016, we hosted Robin Hauser Reynolds’ Code Debugging the Gender Gap, which succinctly outlined gender discrimination in tech: from a girl’s early education to her career lifecycle. In the audience, we had the entire Xero team, and other tech companies.  Both men and women came up to me after the film, saying I had no idea this is what gender discrimination looks like, for women it was reiterating their own experiences. It sparked something in them, they wanted to take action – how can I be an advocate, how can I make sure I’m giving everyone a fair chance in my organisation. That’s the power of one film, the magic of “the holding space”. 

We need more than bite-sized snippets we are used to in our everyday media diets. Well made films are like a good meal, they linger in our hearts, because they provide emotional nourishment. They can give global context to our own lives, inform us as well as give us joy. A great example is Damon Gamou’s 2040, a personal search to give his young daughter a positive future, was a box office smash in 2019, and is still being screened in communities around the world, with education kits available for people to make their “2040 Future”.

So, if you are curious about what is happening in the world, and how it will impact your business, technology, your customers or your life, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and into the world of “impact films”. These will give you a sneak peak into things you may not have seen before and may help you navigate some of the complexities we are about to face. They may spark your imagination to create something better, or if nothing else give you some great examples of real world courage, grit and determination. You may even meet a creative type, who can help craft your own hero’s journey. 


Here are some highlights for tech/startups at this year’s Transition Film Festival:


Need your mind blown?

My Year of Living Mindfully  In the midst of a growing mental illness epidemic, an investigative health journalist and filmmaker Shannon Harvey enlists a team of scientists to put meditation to the test. But after a 30,000 kilometre journey around the world from the bright lights of Manhattan to the dusty refugee camps of the Middle East, what begins as a year-long self-experiment transforms into a life-changing experience.

Followed by a Q&A with Shannon Harvey, Nicholas T Van Dam, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, University of Melbourne and Vishaal Kishore. Director Applied Innovation, RMIT 


Need inspiration for ideas to save the planet? 

The Great Green Wall, the opening night film premiering in Australia, is an epic saga from Jared P. Scott, (director of The Age of Consequences), and Fernando Meirelles (producer of City of God and The Constant Gardener). The film follows Malian musician-activist Inna Modja on a life-altering journey, documenting the wildly ambitious project to create a 8000km wall of trees to prevent desertification in Africa.
Followed by a Q&A with Science Communicator and Comedian, Alanta Colley, and Julian O’Shea, Founder and CEO of Unbound.

Global Thermostat explores the visions and technologies that may offer hope for reversing climate change, their potential risks, and why some options might be better than others. Followed by a discussion with UN Nadia Han Policy Advisor, Department of Premier & Cabinet (Victoria), Graham Hunter National Co-Coordinator of the Climate Change Program, United Nations Association of Australia, and Deborah Hart, Author of Guarding Eden: Champions of Climate Action, Co-founder & Convenor of ClimActs, Co-founder & board member of CLIMARTE and founder of LIVE


Want to know what is happening in the world of Human Cyborg relations?

I Am Human, Australian premiere and winner of four “Best Feature” awards following its premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, takes an intimate look at the world’s first cyborgs, and explores the ethical implications of merging human with machines. Co directed by YouTube sensation (over 500K subscribers) Taryn Southern and Elene Gaby this film has unparalleled access to the breakthrough technologies that will change the course of humanity.

Hosted by That Startup Show, we’ll be exploring what’s happening locally with co founder of Transhuman Australia, Alyse Sue, CEO and Founder of Enablerinteractive.com, Huy Nguyen and Joseph La Diefa, inventor of “Drone Chi”. 

Finally, humanoid robots are the new creatures on our planet.  Hi, AI  explores “companion” robot Harmony, and the world’s friendliest (or not so friendly) robot, Pepper, in their everyday worlds and how they navigate relationships with people.


How do we rebuild a nation after disaster? 

Screening as part of the Resilience Stream, proudly supported by Resilient Melbourne, The Resilience Shift and That Startup Show,  the award winning  Sustainable Nation showcases how to rebuild a nation affected by drought, with some of the world’s best water innovators who are on the frontline to help combat the global water challenges. 


Want to see AI in an entirely new dimension?  

Narrated by Stephen Fry Almost Human is a haunting, deep, and lyrical film providing an engrossing exploration of our relationship with artificial intelligence. Philosophers, anthropologists, archaeologists and physicists explore what it means to be human in the age of exponential technology. Screening with short film Losing Lena, showcasing the rise, fall, and re-engagement of women in the technology field, centred around the image of Lena, a centrefold which appears in the November 1972 issue of Playboy – one of the highest selling issues ever.


For something a bit sh**t…

Mr. Toilet, shadows eccentric and hilarious founder Jack Sims on his mission to build the World Toilet Organisation and bring sanitation to the 2.4 billion people who lack it. 

Transitions Film Festival is on February 20 – March 6 in Melbourne. 

Get tickets here. 

For those who can’t make it to Melbourne, check out these other Aussie festivals with great doco programs: Sydney: Antenna, and SFF Perth: Revelations Brisbane: BIFF Adelaide: AFF Darwin: DIFF Hobart: BOFA


  • Anna Reeves is creative entrepreneur, producer/writer and co founder of That Startup Show, an online TV series about future tech, innovation and startup culture, starring news anchor Rae Johnston and author/presenter Benjamin Law.

Twitter @annakreeves