The most important movie in the world right now is probably one you haven’t heard of. It hasn’t hit theaters or streaming services yet, and you might not find a review on Rotten Tomatoes. But watch YOUTH v GOV anyway; I guarantee it will be worth your time. Today. I had the immense pleasure of being able to watch the film and meet the director, Christi Cooper, at the Bozeman International Film Festival.
YOUTH v GOV is a story of kids, a story of heroes, a story of a mission to save the world. YOUTH v GOV is the story of Juliana v. United States, the constitutional case brought by 21 youth across the nation suing the federal government over the climate crisis. The plaintiffs allege that government took action to further the climate crisis and failed to protect young people’s right to life, liberty, and property. This is the case that could force the federal government to protect our right to a livable future. In essence, this is the case of and for our lives.
The case was brought forward in 2015, but has still not reached trial, due to aggressive defense by the Department of Justice and fossil fuel companies and procedural hurdles. Right now, plaintiffs are in settlement discussions with the Biden Administration, as well as further legal proceedings. You can learn more about the plaintiffs, the timeline of the case, and how to take action in support here.
YOUTH v GOV helps you understand all these details, and that they are truly important. It is important for us to know when the federal government knew about climate change (I’ll give you a hint, it was a very long time ago). It is important to know exactly how the federal government supported the use of fossil fuels (let’s just say it’s to the tune of billions each year). It is important to know the words in our constitution (“nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property”). As the federal government shows its true colors and puts every possible resource toward silencing youth, these facts just might be our path to survival.
However, behind the impressive legal minds, the brilliant research, the hours of depositions and thousands of pages of documents, the beauty of this movie is in its simplicity. The details are great, but more importantly, so are the stories. You’ll meet Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, the lead (and oldest) plaintiff, whose heart and conviction bolsters the younger kids. You’ll meet Levi, the youngest plaintiff, who brings a humor and lightness, but is dead serious about what needs to be done. You’ll meet kids from all walks of life who have formed a family strong enough to face up against the United States government. No matter the eventual outcome of this case, they have shown grace in struggle, pushed the boundaries of our justice system forward, and inspired a movement.
The movie thrives in this complexity. It would be easy to make a Hollywood movie, one with a isolated hero, the singular winning strategy, the happy ending. However, this is not Hollywood. This is real life. This is a movie made in real time, during one of the most consequential David and Goliath legal battles you’ll find, before the end has been reached. Rather than taking the easy way out, Youth v Gov takes on the challenge, just like its protagonists. Each person’s story is given weight, and no one is lionized above another. While the court case is the driver behind this story, contrary to most courtroom dramas, YOUTH v GOV appreciates that the courts are just one path to justice, and that there are what I like to think of as three more branches of government — the Executive, the Legislative, and the People who put them there — to influence. None of them act in isolation. The movie is tied to an Impact Campaign working to bring about that happy ending based on this idea. Plaintiff or not, we each have a role to play in Juliana v. United States. For instance, the film uses the example of Brown v. Board. The law did not suddenly change in 1954 to require desegregation, our idea of what the law could be did. Will you show your support for these plaintiffs by pushing leaders to act?
Watch the film, and I’m sure the answer to that question will be yes. I wish that I had the words to describe the power of this story and why I was wiping away tears of joy, sadness, and anger throughout. I wish I could help you understand that this is the most important movie you may ever see, and that this question of who deserves a future is one that my generation demands an answer to. Sadly, though, words can only go far. I have tried to break it down, to analyze what makes it so great. But, this movie must be taken in as a whole, a beautiful, loving story, capturing the most important court case that you’ve probably never heard of and the lives of 21 of the many children who just might save the world. And no matter who you are, I can bet that you will see yourself in them. You will feel the joy of knowing your place on this planet, the fear of losing your home, the anger of seeing disgraceful greed laid bare, and the hope of a future we just might grasp. Because on this planet, in this moment, the climate crisis is the shared reality we must all face together. Are you ready to change the world?
YOUTH v GOV is currently available at film festivals around the world. See the full schedule here or request a screening. Be sure to check out the virtual film festivals! A great way to watch if the movie is not playing anywhere near you.