You don’t have to search long to find documentaries that sober the audience with the terrifying scientific facts and distressing imagery of the climate and ecological crisis. There are plenty. Overheated, directed by newcomer Yassa Khan, references that – the alarming wildfires, the devastating flooding – but, at its core, this is a collection of portraits exploring the human response to the emergency: the good, the bad and the ultimately hopeful.
Billie Eilish’s role – who is also an executive producer on the film – is to serve as a billboard to make space for the voices of others in this visually vibrant documentary. The pop icon’s own appearance is short, discussing her personal experience of climate anxiety and chastising systemic inaction.
What follows is a series of interviews adeptly surfacing people’s response to climate breakdown – both emotional and practical. With figures from across the worlds of music, fashion, food, education and activism, each compact chapter speaks to a different dimension of the climate puzzle. And sure, some of those reactions are tangible, solution-based (for example, Billie and Finneas’ mother Maggie Baird discussing her work with plant-based food initiative Support + Feed) and give fuel to the sense that the situation is surmountable. But crucially the film also gives space to feelings of doom, cynicism and disillusionment that can plague even the most stubborn of optimists. In particular, the Norwegian songwriter Girl In Red, speaks with a refreshing realism: “The people who’re supposed to make changes don’t give a shit,” she says.
There’s absorbing input from other artists too: Cuban-French duo Ibeyi talking about the personal accountability they’ve taken – wearing second-hand clothes, eating seasonal locally-sourced food – and Glastonbury’s Emily Eavis recalling the festival’s commitment to ban plastic bottles on site in 2019, leading to a spectacular reduction in waste. “When you ask people to come on board with an idea,” she notes, “especially a massive environmental change like this, people are up for it.”
Of the music names it’s Yungblud who speaks with a striking clarity on the issue, addressing a number of key angles, including his own culpability (“I fly all over the world… I cannot help but live with a bit of guilt hanging over my shoulders”) and how the response – in order to be effective – needs to be kind, achievable and empathetic (“if you fight negativity with negativity you only get more negativity”).
The words of these creatives are impactful, but the documentary reaches further into the soul with stories told by indigenous land-defenders: where the climate crisis is an everyday threat to their homes, culture and livelihoods. Like Swedish Sami singer/activist Sofia Jannok, trying to protect her community’s reindeer herders, under threat from mining.
So it’s a project that recognises the magnitude and fragility of the moment – planetary heating looks set to soar above politically agreed targets – and holds a mirror up to our human response in all its see-sawing fear and encouragement. For those expecting a film about Billie Eilish’s climate activism, it’s not. She’s done something far more unselfish and effective, handing over her considerable spotlight to a collection of voices that, while fully acknowledging the perilous circumstance, combine as one to say: we can’t be defeated.
- Director: Yassa Khan
- Starring: Billie Eilish, Finneas, Yungblud, Emily Eavis
- Release date: Overheated was shown at Bilie Eilish’s climate event in London this weekend (June 10-12) and is streaming now on WePresent