Why Dakota Johnson’s New Eco-Film Is a Game Changer

A new film starring Dakota Johnson tackles the subject of climate change, but don’t expect images of factories guzzling pollutants into the air or statistics on how much green house gases are impacting the ecosystem. There is no special effects-laden disaster scene to show what will happen if climate change is not dealt with either. Instead, ‘Chloe & Theo’ is a heartfelt fable of a passionate man with an important message to deliver to the world: The power to change the planet is within ourselves.

The film tells the story of Theo Ikummaqs, a man who has lived his whole life with the Inuits, an indigenous community in the Canadian Arctic. He is sent to New York City by his elders to tell the leaders of the world about the catastrophic effects their actions are having on the climate, and especially in his home. Dakota Johnson plays Chloe, a fiery and quirky homeless woman, who helps him along the way introducing him to a colorful group of characters who support his mission.

‘Chloe & Theo’ is technically a fictional story but its message is very much real and the plot toes the line between fiction and non-fiction.

As unlikely as it may sound, Theo Ikummaqs is a real Inuit who did find himself in the contrasting surroundings of a big city —the party circuit of Los Angeles— and who tried to get people to learn about how climate change was impacting his ancient civilization. It was in one of those big fancy soirees in 2006 that he met producer Lloyd Phillips who actually listened to his plight and reached out to his friend Monica Ord to try to find a way to help him spread the message.

“I met Theo and he was such a fish out of water,” Ord, ‘Chloe & Theo’’s producer, told Care2, of the first time she met Ikummaqs. “He told me his story and the story of his people and he kept saying ‘I am more worried about your people than mine because we’ve been adapting but you won’t.’ That concern struck me as something so unlikely and beautiful, I needed to help in anyway I could.”

Ord had no experience in climate change or movie production but she did have an extensive list of contacts. After working for 20 years in the medical field doing clinical trials for HIV/AIDS and cancer, she had the benefit of having none other than Sir Richard Branson’s contact information.

Branson, who has been working towards making his company, Virgin Airlines, greener and aims for it to be completely carbon emission free by 2050, is an activist for climate change, but Ord didn’t expect him to jump on board so fast. After six minutes of convincing, the environmentally conscious millionaire hopped on a plane (and later a dog-sled) with his son to get to know Ikummaqs’ village of Igloolik himself.

Parts of the footage from the trip showing permafrost melting and polar bears whose ice caps have disappeared were featured in the news media like CNN’s Planet in Peril series but Ord knew that wasn’t enough.

“I knew first hand working with medical development that if you throw facts and statistics at people, they drink their coffee, they take some notes and they forget about you but if you get them a narrative and make them feel something 10 years later, they’ll remember names and details. That’s why it had to be a story about characters, their relationships.”

And that indeed it is. Each of the characters surrounding Theo in the film represents a part of American culture, from the fist-in-the-air freedom fighter Chloe to the realist skeptic Mr. Sweets. They each have their own issues and personal struggles but they all find some way to help.

It is this focus on personal responsibility and relationships that makes ‘Chloe & Theo’ unique. In dealing with a subject as far-reaching as global climate change, the film still brings the focus back to the self, to the role every single person plays in the bigger picture.

“When you boil it down, we have the power,” says Ord about the movie’s message. “We are in control because every time we spend a dollar we vote on things and companies we agree and disagree with but we’re so desensitized that we’ve forgotten we have that choice and that power. [The movie] is about becoming conscious of that again. About reigning in those needs and wants and thinking about our decisions.”

‘Chloe & Theo’ opens in select theaters Friday, September 4.