Bentonville Film Festival Review: Youth v Gov

Year: 2020
Runtime:  110 minutes
Director: Christi Cooper
Writer: Christi Cooper, Steven Hoggard (story consultant), Lyman Smith (additional writing by)

Climate change continues to become one of the most impactful and daunting issues facing us and the longer we continue to ignore, the harder things will get. We’re past the point of summers and winters being a little harsher, and we’re now seeing much more damaging and frequent hurricane and wildfire seasons that are causing harm to people’s health and changing their lives for the worst. Just a few weeks ago, I walked outside of my East coast (U.S.) residence to see this sort of fog that casted over the entire area and soon learned that it was actually smoke that drifted across the country from the Oregon wildfires – damaging the air quality and hindering visibility.

Even when it may not be directly happening to you, the effects of climate change are clearer than ever and it’s critical that we need to start to take action before it’s too late. The first feature documentary from filmmaker and scientist Christi Cooper, “Youth v Gov” (2020), embodies this sense of urgency as it showcases a new voice against climate change.

The film follows the efforts of twenty-one youth plaintiffs as they sue the U.S. government for knowingly causing harm to their lives and the lives of millions through by continually permitting the combustion of fossil fuels and valuing money over human lives. Each plaintiff from across the country has their own story of how climate change has drastically affected them and have come together to not only hold the government accountable for their actions and inaction but inspire others to fight alongside them.

“Youth v. Gov” really gives the arguments of the young plaintiffs of Julianna v. United States some weight as it creates a strong timeline for the government’s negligence. It unflinchingly shows the corruption of presidents, spanning back decades, as they would use climate change as a means to get elected and then completely go against what they said through the actions of supporting oil companies. It’s corruption that comes from both major parties and the film does a great job showing that to the greatest extent. It makes the case’s arguments of the government’s knowledge plain to see and is one of the many ways that this film expertly gives viewers an insight into this process.

There are aspects to “Youth v Gov” that sort of make it a methodical blueprint for what it takes to make a case against a big governing body. As it delves into how climate change has affected each young plaintiff and why their case is so important, the film weaves these stories and meanings together to show the importance they play in making their case. It’s a true chronicle of their beliefs and watching them basically go step by step really keeps you involved and almost like you’re a part of the fight. It makes this film potentially a strong source of inspiration for others to hold their government accountable.

The most effective element of “Youth v Gov” is its titular youth as their stories, unflinching efforts, and genuine care easily tug at your heart. Older generations have always looked down on younger generations for not caring and telling them that they’ll need to step up and that’s exactly what you’re seeing with these twenty-one plaintiffs. Although they come from different parts of the country and are off different ages, they come together for this common goal and really stand by one another to see it through. Their stories about how climate change has greatly affected them, ranging from the increased factory emissions have had worsening affects on their breathing to heightened weather impacts creating damaging floods, really stick with you and gives their case some emotional weight. It shows how their personal experiences define the impact of climate change and why it’s so important that our actions need to change.

However, although their fight is full of relatable desires for change, there are still barriers that come from the government. Constant delays and attempts to delegitimize their efforts create obstacles show how tough it can really be to hold the government accountable and its what ultimately still makes their case a tough fight to this day – roughly six years after it was filed. While these obstacles seem to make their efforts futile, “Youth v Gov” still showcases the power of their efforts well in displaying the impact they’ve had and the worldwide effort it’s sparked. There’s something really heartfelt about the way that climate change scientists feel seen and heard by these young plaintiffs making their research matter and how their lawyers really take them seriously and are equally inspired by them every step of the way.

The note Cooper leaves things on is perfect with her showing how other young people from around the world are fighting alongside them and how their case might not be won yet but has inspired a global effort that shows the growing conversation and impact of climate change. It’s an inspiring end that makes you want to get up and act – which is exactly the kind of fitting, effective ending “Youth v Gov” deserves.

“Youth v Gov” is an effective and inspiring showcase of taking a stand and tackles climate change efforts from a fresh and hopeful perspective. It’s an engaging chronicle of one of the most landmark cases against the government of our time and could easily spark a sense of change in those who watch it.


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