Award-winning investigative TV-journalist Renée Scheltema explains the inspiration behind her extraordinary and critically acclaimed environmental documentary – Normal Is Over – dedicated to reversing the path of global decline, offering solutions, and hope.
From the age of 21, I have been travelling the world through my role as a television journalist and working with NGOs. I have witnessed at first hand the impact that the way we are living is having on our planet. It is all too easy in our everyday lives to be shielded from the very present reality of climate change and global decline in quality of life, because our concrete jungles and our city-hopping lifestyles mean that we don’t always see or understand what is happening. This misunderstanding is magnified by the media, who are driven by profit and ratings. For the media, entertainment makes more money than information, meaning we are not properly informed. The real issues are often not discussed and so most people are confused about the big picture of what we’re doing to this planet. Natural disasters are reported amid panic and sensational headlines, but the cause of our problems, such as our financial economic model being geared towards endless growth, is rarely discussed.
I began to see this sense of being lost in the younger generation – kids between 17 and 37 are concerned and confused about climate change and the other issues humankind are currently facing. They understand something is wrong but don’t quite have a grasp on what exactly it is. So, in my documentary I focus on the explanation of why we seem to be busy killing ourselves, and then focus on solutions. Climate change and species extinction are really symptoms of a deeper problem.
When my daughters left home in their early twenties, I decided it was time for me to cut through the superficiality of the mainstream media, and say what urgently needed to be said about the crisis facing us. I also felt that it was vital to not only present the problem, but to also offer solutions and this became the driving force behind the documentary. I initially looked to get funding to put my documentary together, but although I had successfully funded projects for television in the past, I came across lots of resistance – from TV stations and mostly from male investors who struggled to believe that I, as a one-woman crew, would be able to complete the task at hand.
So, I decided to self-fund Normal Is Over. I rented out my home, got a loan and spent a year travelling the world, carrying 40 kilos of equipment as a one-woman band. I interviewed experts across the globe specialising in a range of fields, from agriculture to architecture, biodiversity to banking, and ecology to economics, while searching for solutions on many different levels. There is a quote from the film that sums up the documentary’s approach, ‘It’s not just about environmental behaviour, it’s not just about control or power. It’s about the whole system.’ I wanted to connect the dots between climate change, species extinction, resource depletion, and income inequality.
One of the areas that became essential to explore was the myth of money. The more I spoke with economists, the more I began to realise that our existing financial economic system is just a story. We can create a different story. Currently our money system is dysfunctional and unsustainable: we create money out of nothing. Through our interest-bearing debt system, we always want more money back. Without money, we seem to be dispirited. Our current economic model is set up on the premise that more stuff makes us happier, that we need to consume forever more, and that this will make us happy ever after. However, our economic system doesn’t address the real needs of the inhabitants of this planet. Instead, we convert nature into money, thereby creating species extinction, climate change, resource depletion, and failing states. It is time that we create a new story that can run parallel to the current one. We don’t have time to lose – the consequences of pollution are being felt everywhere. In Cape Town, they are dangerously close to running out of water and rationing is likely to be a reality in the near future.
The situation is scary and the need for change is urgent. In the film Normal Is Over, many solutions are offered that can work hand in hand with policy changes so that both on an individual and a systemic level we can effect real and meaningful change.
When I returned home from my year of travel, I had collected over 180 hours of footage, which took me two years to whittle down to 10 hours that brought everything I’d seen, heard and experienced together. My family and friends watched it over two days and laughed and cried throughout – that was when I knew I had something. My daughters encouraged me to make it into a film that could be watched by many, so I set about turning 10 hours into 103 minutes. My daughter, Elisa Emely, dedicated her talents as a creative director to producing all the animations for the film, she transcribed all the interviews with the experts and supported me over the five years it took to make the film a reality. Her passion carried me through and she used to say: ‘Mom, we have to make this movie into a movement.’ Tragically, she died in a car crash two days after the film was finished. The film is dedicated to her as is my mission to create a greener planet for future generations. This mission is being realised by the Making of the Future Foundation which I set up, working to create meaningful change for a regenerative planet. To ‘connect money to nature’ by inspiring people and building ‘a new normal’ for the health of our planet and the survival of all its remaining inhabitants.*
Over this summer, I have been working on an update of Normal Is Over, as its message is getting more relevant by the day. After all, should we be happy with five months of sunshine in Europe or be worried? I can’t wait to show this updated version and get the message out there in a big way. And then it will be onto the next sequel documentary. For the distribution of Normal Is Over, and for the sequel documentary, the Making of the Future Foundation is seeking your support. My hope now is that change-makers, students and young leaders in the world watch Normal Is Over, so that they can truly understand the problems we’re facing, and take action in their lives.
You can watch the film online here: http://normalisoverthemovie.com/normal-is-over-the-movie/
*Editor’s note: the Sisters agrees with Renée that our current economic system is creating adverse side-effects, so we are working to create a complementary currency that provides a counterbalance to conventional currencies. Stay tuned for further details. If you are interested in exploring these issues further, read Riane Eisler’s article on ‘Following My Calling’.
Renée Scheltema is an independent documentary filmmaker, producer, and investigative journalist. She has worked for Dutch television as a director, producer and camera person. She is also a professional photographer. Some of her documentaries, like Something Unknown, Hush, A Portrait of Tracy Payne, Seven Days in Burma, The Death Penalty, Portrait of A Zen Couple, and The Bus were selected at International Film Festivals. As a professional photographer, Renée has worked for Magazines and Newspapers in Holland, the US, and South Africa. She was a member of Gamma Liaison in New York, now called Getty Images. Renée is the founder of the Making Of The Future Foundation. Its mission is to create meaningful change for a regenerative planet; to connect ‘money to nature’ by inspiring people to build a ‘new normal’ for the health of our planet.