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Review: ‘How to Change the World’ shows how Greenpeace started with a bang and kept going

‘How to Change the World’

A still from the documentary “How to Change the World.”

(Candescent Films)

While “Save the Whales” has long been the battle cry of the Greenpeace organization, it turns out there was initially a different cause on their sonar — namely a controversial 1971 U.S. nuclear bomb test on the Alaskan island of Amchitka.

It’s just one of many revealing details documented in “How to Change the World,” a fascinating, skillfully assembled chronicle of the rise and inevitable fallout surrounding the granddaddy of the environmental activism movement.

Spearheaded by Vancouver journalist Bob Hunter and a motley crew of fellow long-haired hippie eco-freaks, Greenpeace (the name they christened their antique wooden boat) would soon attract worldwide attention by bearing witness to shocking carnage at the hands of Russian whaling fleets and Canadian baby-seal-clubbing hunters.

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But the collective’s shrewd mix of altruism and showmanship would ultimately prove too successful, and the exponential growing pains related to building an international movement would take their toll in organizational nightmares and heated internal quarrels.

Using the writings of the late Hunter (rendered in voice-over by actor Barry Pepper) as his push-off point, filmmaker Jerry Rothwell has deftly incorporated the evocative, extensive archival footage — bearing witness required a lot of 16-millimeter film — as well as interviews with surviving Greenpeace founders, many still long-haired and bearded.

The compelling end result ranks as one of the year’s most satisfying documentaries, green or otherwise.

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“How to Change the World.”

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino.

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