'How to Blow Up a Pipeline': Daring heist movie takes action on climate crisis

"It's really important that we make movies and tell stories that challenge what we should do about [the climate crisis]," filmmaker Daniel Goldhaber said.

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Climate experts continue to sound the alarm bell about the severity of the climate crisis the world is facing, and filmmaker Daniel Goldhaber's film How to Blow Up a Pipeline (now in theatres) evaluates sabotage as an effective form of activism.

"We are living in pretty difficult times and we are kind of undergoing a climate crisis as we speak," Goldhaber said during the premiere for the movie at last year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). "I think that it's really important that we make movies and tell stories that challenge what we should do about that and how we can continue to live on this planet, in a sustainable way."

Loosely based on Andreas Malm’s book of the same name, How to Blow Up a Pipeline follows a group of environmental activists who come together with the common goal to disrupt an oil pipeline in Texas. Starring Ariela Barer, Lukas Gage, Kristine Froseth, Jayme Lawson, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Marcus Scribner and Jake Weary, a series of flashbacks are used to explore why and how each person became a part of this act of this radical climate activism.

For example, Xochitl's (Barer) mom died in a heatwave. Theo (Lane) has been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, linked to people who grew up near chemical plants and oil refineries. Dwayne (Weary) is battling the government seizing his property to build a pipeline.

Ariela Barer as Xochitl in How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Elevation Pictures)
Ariela Barer as Xochitl in How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Elevation Pictures)

How to Blow Up a Pipeline feels like classic heist film, but effectively poses questions around why there isn't more action being taken on climate change, and what would actually make a difference, while evaluating this sort of "eco-terrorism" approach to activism.

In one scene in particular, the group has a conversation about whether they will in fact be identified as terrorist for blowing up a pipeline, suggesting that the Boston Tea Party were terrorist of their day, and Martin Luther King Jr. was labelled a terrorist as well.

“Anytime anyone has challenged authority they call it terrorisms and then when the terrorism works, they lie about he legacy and they say it was all passive, non-violent, kumbaya sh-t, and it wasn’t," Xochitl says in the film.

"A lot of the early conversations were just around the ethics of putting an idea of this out in the world and what the personal consequences of that would be," Barer said during TIFF. "Then it was about, what is too didactic, what is just visceral, putting you in the ideas and the action of this concept that Andreas just so brilliantly articulates in this book."

How to Blow Up a Pipeline from director, co-writer Daniel Goldhaber (Elevation Pictures)
How to Blow Up a Pipeline from director, co-writer Daniel Goldhaber (Elevation Pictures)

As Goldhaber revealed in Toronto, his parents (who he dedicated the movie to in advance of the screening) have spent 30 years in climate research and technology, among the group of scientists warning the public about the severity of the climate crisis.

"I hope we finally start listening to what they've been saying," Goldhaber said.

It's hard to find a film that more effectively entertains in an incredibly tense and nerve wracking way, embedded into the political ideology of a movie like this. It's high stakes, it has a kinetic energy with performances that are incredibly intricate and moving.

"We had kind of spent a year of COVID, and also forest fires in California, and I think just feeling very ... powerless in the world, powerless in our careers, powerless in a film industry that has been very destabilized and wanting to kind of do something and tell a story that felt to us to be very, very relevant," Goldhaber explained.