Please don’t blow up a pipeline after seeing this film

A woman with close-cropped hair puts a hand on an oil pipeline.
Ariela Barer in “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.”

At a time when many filmmakers are paranoically spoiler-phobic, director Daniel Goldhaber doesn’t mind if audiences know the outcome of his new movie going in.

“It’s called ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline,’” he said. “I think the spoiler’s in the title.”

Paced like a gripping heist procedural, the film, adapted by Goldhaber, Jordan Sjol and Ariela Barer from the political manifesto by Swedish climate activist Andreas Malm, finds a cadre of young people from around the country successfully executing a plan to destroy an oil pipeline in Texas.

But with its provocative title and dangerous ideas, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” presents a challenge for the filmmakers that goes beyond the movie’s making: how to talk about the project in a way that feels responsible, while also remaining authentic to the radical action at its center.


“We didn’t necessarily want the movie to be directing the audience to go out and take a particular action,” said Goldhaber. “And I think that’s the fundamental difference here between a drama with a political point of view and a piece of propaganda.”

Although Malm was surprised when approached about adapting his work into a thriller — the characters, plot and structure are all original to the film — he immediately grasped why it was a good idea.

“The potential of the film is much greater than the book when it comes to breaking the paralysis that so many people feel, the sort of despair and the sense that the fossil fuel infrastructure that is destroying the planet is our fate, is our destiny, that we can’t do anything about it.” said Malm. “It describes an actual action of this kind, and it does it through a medium that will reach so many more people than my book.

“The intention of the filmmakers, or my own intention, isn’t to get people to go out and do exactly this. ‘Here’s the manual. Just go out and copy it and blow up a pipeline.’ I don’t think that’s anyone’s intention,” he continued. “The intention is to spur a conversation and make people reflect on what situation we’re finding ourselves in and what kind of actions we need to undertake to deal with it. We need to do something much more radical than what we’ve done so far, because what we’ve done so far hasn’t been enough.”

A man kneeling in the snow at dusk
Forrest Goodluck in “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.”

The film is in conversation with a long tradition of fictional movies about youthful activist groups and radical action, most of them focused on failure: recent films such as Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves” and Bertrand Bonello’s “Nocturama” and classic titles such as Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point,” Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “The Third Generation” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “La Chinoise.” But the filmmakers also found points of reference in Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” movies.


One thing many of those previous films have in common is an element of sex appeal in the use of a young, hip and very attractive cast.

“We met with a French activist who was talking about the current movements going on in France right now,” said star Barer, who’s also a co-writer and producer on the film. “And he told the whole story about how it was young, sexy people coming to the front lines that revitalized the movement because everyone wants to be a part of the sexy, cool activist movement. And he was very adamant that we make the movie sexy and appealing in that way. Which I don’t think we quite as explicitly did, but it is something about watching these cool people pull it off that is kind of sexy.”

For Goldhaber, the issue of how to make an engaging movie about complicated ideas is about something beyond simply a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

“What matters is getting these ideas into the public consciousness and starting a debate on a universal level,” said Goldhaber. “This is a place where the progressive movement is perpetually self-limiting its cultural reach because when you only make culture that appeals to the niche, you send the message that progressivism is only meant for a niche audience.

“But then what does popular art look like? It looks like art that is financed and supported by the United States’ military-industrial complex, movies like ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ or Marvel films. When those are the dominant cultural narrative, it feels irresponsible to not try to compete with that, to spread a different kind of cultural idea,” said Goldhaber. “Because if you essentially say, ‘I refuse to participate,’ it’s not like all of a sudden people are going to stop going to the movies. They’re just going to be going to movies that are all about using big fast planes to murder the enemy.”

Malm noted the explicitly anticapitalist themes in the enormously popular Netflix series “Squid Game.” The film’s distributor, Neon, which picked up “Pipeline” after it premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, has also released such politically provocative titles as “Parasite” and “Triangle of Sadness.”


“We have zero reluctance supporting this riveting film and are extremely excited to bring it to theaters nationwide. Neon has never been afraid of provocative films,” said Tom Quinn, founder and CEO of Neon, in an email. “Our mission has always, always been to champion filmmakers with a strong point of view and aren’t afraid to take risks. The climate crisis is a timely, potent and consequential issue that demands immediate attention. It is essential we provide this bold filmmaking team a platform to facilitate this difficult, but vital conversation.”

Malm also sees no contradiction in making an exciting heist thriller out of his idealistic political manifesto.

“There’s no point of having some kind of a revolutionary purism that you should only preach to the choir. That would be completely pointless,” Malm said. “If there’s any value to these ideas, they should be spread as broadly as possible.”

Three activists sitting around a rusty van
Sasha Lane, from left, Jayme Lawson and Ariela Barer in “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.”

The cast includes Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary and Irene Bedard. The film’s story moves between the forward momentum of the group plotting and executing their plan and the motivations behind each team member being there.

“No one even has the same reason necessarily for why they’re doing this,” said Lane, credited on the film as an executive producer alongside her role as Theo, a plotter with a deeply personal reason for participating. “It helps people realize that there’s multiple ways you can count, you can still be a part of something and still care and put your passion behind it. But it’s going to make people uncomfortable. And if they’re uncomfortable, kind of understanding, why are you uncomfortable? Is it because you don’t agree? Is it because you don’t know what you can do for it? Is it because it scares you?”


“It really opened my eyes to a lot of things that I felt like I’ve been complacent about on my end,” said Gage, who plays Logan, a risk-taking gutter punk who comes from a privileged family.

The film’s cast is a diverse and inclusive group, which was partly a conscious effort by the filmmakers and partly organic to their process. Barer plays Xochitl, whose commitment and determination makes her one of the action’s de facto leaders.

“Initially the whole idea was just, what if it was us and our friends? What if we went out tomorrow and did this, what would that look like?” said Barer. “We took stories from people very directly who are credited as script consultants and were compensated and we just talked about how to ethically represent so many different communities that we’re not part of. Because realistically, if you look around at our lives, at least us specifically, this would be a realistic representation of what this group would look like.

“So then we just started having conversations with our friends and activists and pieced together these different stories of the people that are most directly affected by climate change immediately, today. ... We didn’t have to look as far as we initially thought we might when we started writing.”

Goodluck, also an executive producer on the film, plays Michael, the bomb maker of the group. He noted that while he had been a part of many projects with diverse casts, “Pipeline” took things a step further.

“For any film, I think a diverse cast is cool, but that’s the least a film can do, to be honest,” said Goodluck. “It’s easy to cast diverse people. It’s hard to include diverse ideas. It’s hard to allow Black, brown, queer, whatever people to include how they feel about the material in the project. And I think that this was a film that allowed everybody to have a say of what they felt about this issue.”


If there’s any value to these ideas, they should be spread as broadly as possible.

— Andreas Malm, author of ‘How to Blow Up A Pipeline’

Though Malm described his own participation in the project as “limited,” he shared contacts, read drafts of the screenplay, had conversations with the writers as they were working and watched multiple cuts of the film.

One thing Malm said the film does quite well is capture the urgency of the book.

“I would never argue that sabotage or more kind of militant tactics would be some kind of a panacea or that everyone in the climate movement should put everything else to the side and just blow up pipelines,” said Malm. “The argument in the book is that the situation is so urgent and desperate and extreme on the climate front that we need to experiment and we need to try more radical things without having any guarantees that it would work. There are risks with this, but there are risks with absolutely every option that’s on the table at this very late moment on the climate crisis. There are no risk-free options left.”