Andrew Levitas: “I like to deal with subjects that give people hope”

We talked to Andrew Levitas, Director of the 2021 film ‘Minamata’, about caring for the environment and our future, as well as our common profession of telling a story that resonates with people.

Public affairs is all about influencing people, policies and perceptions, so who better to talk to than Andrew Levitas? He is an artist, teacher and film Director who has made a career out of crafting messages that resonate with a huge number of onlookers all around the world.

Last year, Andrew spoke at an event that #SustainablePublicAffairs co-organised about the EU’s Chemicals Strategy. He was kind enough to join us again to talk about his views on sustainability, the environment and how to tell a story that speaks to people.

‘Minamata’

Andrew Levitas’ most recent production, ‘Minamata’, centres around the true story of a photojournalist named W. Eugene Smith, played by Johnny Depp. Smith had returned to Japan after World War II to discover dozens of devastating cases of severe mercury poisoning. They were a result of factories dumping industrial wastewater into the town’s bay.

The small coastal town of Minamata – both the namesake of the film and the neurological disease resulting from mercury poisoning – is a stark reminder of what can go wrong without robust environmental protection regimes like the Minamata Convention on Mercury, signed in November 2013.

What made you want to make a film about environmental protection?

“I like to deal with subjects that give people hope. I think this is something inherently tied to being an artist”, Andrew tells us. He thinks that “fighting for something good, something right” is what motivates lots of creative people.

“It’s also about showing people what’s really at stake”. And that is what Andrew Levitas has done with ‘Minamata’. The film is truly a wake-up call: Chemicals must be treated with great care and an even greater sense of responsibility.

“Not everyone can make a film or a piece of art, but when people are motivated, they can go out and tell their friends, spread the word and help make change possible”. He wants people to see that “everyone can have a voice”.

How do you make an impact with your messages?

There is obviously no clear-cut answer to this question. But Andrew tells us he does know what doesn’t appeal to people: “Telling them they’re wrong, they’re stupid or they don’t understand. Everyone should be given the respect to decide for themselves”.

On top of that, he doesn’t like to “make things political”, saying it is simply a “basic human right to live in an unpolluted world”. Andrew believes one problem environmental movements run into is “fragmenting into dozens of separate issues when, in reality, they are all coming from exactly the same place”.

“We should be bringing people who care about the environment together”, he argues, “not pushing them apart”. This positive mindset is something we can all agree with.

Do you have any thoughts on the EU’s push for a ‘Green Recovery’?

“It’s funny”, he says, “we talk about ‘the EU’, but really it’s a bunch of different countries that are making things happen together”. Speaking as an American, he thinks that it is quite easy to forget this simple fact.

It is true people often speak of ‘The EU’ as a singular entity, but it also symbolises the collective position of 27 member states. That is an important distinction.

“It is fantastic if anyone steps forward”, he says. “In particular, if the EU does it, that is very impressive to me,” he says, explaining that it will be sure to have a big impact globally, owing to the influence of the bloc.

There are plenty of organisations doing good things all over the world, but he says decisively, “What does not impress me is people who put their heads in the sand”. Instead, Andrew thinks it is better to speak up and take action wherever or whenever you can.

We at #SustainablePublicAffairs couldn’t agree more.