How to Blow up a Pipeline ★★★★★ – Glasgow Film Festival review

5 mins read

The reality of the climate disaster, environmentally and politically, is something the media has historically shied away from. How to Blow Up a Pipeline is not only the newest instalment of satirical or commentary climate films but is also perhaps the best.

Whilst not exactly a YouTube tutorial, How to Blow Up a Pipeline definitely shows how these extreme acts of protest (of terrorism, as the film puts it) are planned, practiced, and succeed.

The conversations around the reality of their actions, their apprehensions and nerves, their fear of repercussions being trumped by the injustice fuelled fury all feel entirely candid. The film invokes fascination, shock and sympathy for the lives of these young people who are acting out of pure desperation. Peace hasn’t worked for them and the world as it is works for no one. In their eyes, what else is left to try but violence?

Image Credit: Neon

Non-fiction origins

Narratively, How to Blow Up a Pipeline does anything but hide from the harsh reality of the climate crisis. However, the non-fiction book it inspired the movie has exactly the same frankness. 

Andreas Malm, climate activist and senior lecturer at Lund University, is the author How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight. Whilst his novel doesn’t actually instruct on how to blow up a pipeline, Malm does argue that pacifist acts of protest, conversations, treaties, and events like COP28 events are simply not effective enough. The author advocates for destruction of property – not people- in order to slow down the fossil fuel industry whilst promoting the environmental cause. 

The book itself features in the film. Its presence leads to two characters meeting and discussing their passion for non-pacifist change. However, the references to the novel aren’t always as pointed as that.

Mainly, the source material is reflected by having Malm’s beliefs mirrored in the characters. The film’s narrative tone is a gritty heist thriller. It focuses on a mismatch crew of environmental activists who unite for a very specific reason – blowing up a pipeline.

Image Credit: Neon

Each of the characters is introduced in the present and via flashbacks purposefully timed to abruptly squash the builds of tension. It’s in these moments the audience gets to learn their stories and their motives.

In varying ways, the crew have had their lives jeopardised by the actions of the oil industry. If they haven’t, then their personal incentive is from compassion and thrill-chasing. This combination of motivations creates a diversified and haphazard team. Their actions aren’t solely founded in vengeance; it’s passion for society’s survival that fuels them.

The team behind the screen

Alongside the author, there was a core team of four others who helped bring this novel to the silver screen. Director Daniel Goldhaber, actress and co-writer Ariela Barer, co-writer Jordan Sjol and editor Daniel Garber all clearly from their soul using their own pain. The movie is jarringly personal and desperate. It’s effective in showing the desperation of the climate emergency.

Visually, cinematographer Tehillah De Castro has created an astoundingly beautiful film shot on 16mm. There’s little else to say other than that. Even if the plot doesn’t interest you, the shots alone make this movie worth watching.

Image Credit: Neon

Final Thoughts

This environmental conspiracy thriller is the peak of its rather niche genre. This is not a movie about martyrs, but about unity and desperation and hope. A common playful whilst accurate critique is that it’s less about How to Blow Up a Pipeline, and more about why. Regardless of titling, the why is the powerful message throughout the movie. 

How to Blow Up a Pipeline invokes a parental desire to protect our planet without scaremongering or bullying its audience to agree with the creators’ beliefs. It’s a tale about revolutionaries and about love. It is excellent. 

Where can I watch it?

This film is showing at the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival. Whilst scheduled for U.S. theatrical release on April 7 this year, there is currently no confirmed date for the UK. However, the novel is available to buy in the UK at Waterstones, Amazon and more.

Feature Image Credit: Neon

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Journalism and English Studies student with an interest in film & tv, music, and politics.
Live on Air3 Thursday 1-2.30
Twitter: @AlexPaterson01

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