When he was 18 years old, Australian visual effects master Seth Larney received a call that changed his life. With 10 minutes notice, he left his job mid-shift to interview for a tech role on The Matrix Reloaded. “My boss [the film’s Head of IT] said, ‘Do you want to just stay here and start right now?’” Larney recalls to NME. He did, and 20 years of VFX experience later, Larney has helmed a science-fiction film of his own: the climate change indie 2067, out on Netflix Australia today (February 19).
In 2067, Earth’s flora has perished entirely. Humankind is reliant on synthetic oxygen, a commodified resource distributed by the parasitic company Chromicorp. And, if that weren’t enough, a deadly disease has spread throughout an unnamed Australian city, the world’s last standing metropolis. Larney’s fork-in-the-road, time-travel premise draws parallels from pressing existential questions the world faces today: in the near future, will humanity survive climate change? Or will we succumb to extinction?
Larney came from a modest life in the forests of Elands on Biripi country, a place that’s had a clear effect on his desire for environmental preservation. Going from the stillness of his childhood home to working in a crew of 800 on The Matrix films wasn’t without its trials. “To me, it felt like being thrown into the meat-grinder. And I kind of loved that,” he says.
His tense ecological tale, which opened Adelaide Film Festival last year, brings together an Australian cast familiar with stories steeped in science-fiction and ancient mythology: there’s leading actor Kodi Smit-McPhee of X-Men: Apocalypse and The Road; Ryan Kwanten of True Blood; Deborah Mailman of Cleverman, and Aaron Glenane of Snowpiercer.
Larney spoke with NME about the frightening statistic that inspired 2067’s premise, how science fiction allows audiences critical distance, and the benefits of independent filmmaking when it comes to telling climate change stories.
I read that when you started working on the concept for 2067 back in 2005, you were driven by anxiety over the extent of deforestation taking place in the Amazon. What has the journey of putting together this screenplay been like for you?
Around 2005 I read this really horrific statistic that the Amazon rainforest was being deforested at a rate of, I think, three football fields per minute and that the Amazon accounts for 25 per cent of the Earth’s breathable oxygen. This stat was kind of a throwaway line in an article – it really terrified me.
I grew up in the forest when I was a kid. I had no power or running water for the first maybe 13, 14 years of my life, and so my home when I was growing up was climbing trees and swimming in rivers. And it was just this thought: it felt to me like it’s not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’ that we are destroying the planet.
How does science fiction help you to understand the world you live in currently?
I actually have a really strong opinion about this. There’s a really specific reason that I love sci-fi movies, which is that when I was growing up in the forest my world felt very small, right? But your imagination is big. And I think that there’s that classic line in Star Wars, which sounds like such a cliché, but it works for a reason: “In a galaxy far, far away…” I think that the reason that works for audiences is because it allows your mind to expand and leave the day-to-day stress that you have, the mundanity that’s going on in your life, right?
For me, I think it has a big scope for big, dramatic storytelling. I want to be moved by the profound nature of the universe and all the possibilities of what’s out there that I don’t have in my house, in my everyday life – I think sci-fi works really well for that.
“It’s really important that we keep inspired, keep our horizons and our imaginations open and keep believing that there’s hope out there”
Kodi Smith-McPhee said in a recent interview that “[Hollywood doesn’t] necessarily want to stir protests when it comes to a movie; they just want to make money”. But I think, to get the climate justice that we need, we rely on protests.
I think any time that you put a message out there into the world that is divisive – and look, let’s face it, the issue around climate change is divisive, as much as I think that’s horrible: the fact that we’re even having an argument about it, it is [horrible] – and so you’re always going to create divisiveness when you talk about those sorts of issues publicly.
My first feature film [Tombiruo] was a studio movie. What I will say is that, I think, in independent filmmaking when you don’t have a committee of executives that are solely concerned with hitting the widest possible demographic that they can hit – because that is part of what comes with the territory of studio filmmaking; they’re trying to go, ‘Here’s our widest demographic; let’s not offend anybody, and let’s just try and hit all of it at the same time.’
I think with independent filmmaking, if you want to really say something clear you have maybe a bit more scope to do that. I agree: I think it’s important to say things with movies; there are many ways to do that.
What I hope is that my films are fun first and foremost, but then at the end of it you hopefully walk out of the cinema – or your home, you’ll hopefully be watching it on Netflix in a few days – and just feel something shifted inside of you, even if you don’t quite realise what it is.
What do you think, at this point in time, motivates you to make films?
The state of the world at the moment – really, for me it’s as simple as that. I think today, now, in 2021, the power of film, and the power of story in general, is more important than it’s ever been, because I think the whole world has had such a difficult time recently.
And I think we’re headed to a whole bunch of conclusions globally. It’s really important that we keep inspired, keep our horizons and our imaginations open and keep believing that there’s hope out there. And I think filmmaking, and storytelling in general, is a really important part of that journey for us. I’m more inspired than ever, because I think we need to keep telling stories.
2067 is now streaming on Netflix Australia