Is living more sustainably really that difficult? Film-makers Antoinette Wilson and Jordan Osmond have travelled around New Zealand to find people, couples and families who prove that it's easy. Their new feature-length documentary, Living the Change: Inspiring Stories for a Sustainable Future, premieres this Thursday, as the opening event of Bay of Plenty's Sustainable Backyards month. They discuss what they learned with science reporter Jamie Morton.

Tell us more about the documentary: what motivated you to make it? And what were the big questions you wanted to ask and answer?

We set out to explore solutions to the overlapping crises the world is facing today – climate change, economic instability, resource depletion, environmental destruction.

They're all urgent and frightening issues that need to be addressed right now.

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But we know – because we feel it ourselves – that if all you hear is how bad things are you can become crippled by fear and overwhelmed, and those emotions don't inspire change.

We wanted to make a film that didn't shy away from discussing the big issues, but that would be solutions focused and inspiring, would generate discussion and debate, and would offer everyday solutions – through the stories of everyday folk – for making grass-roots change.

The big question we wanted to ask was what can we as individuals do in the face of these huge issues?

We were looking for answers for ourselves as well as for the film, of course.

Film-makers Antoinette Wilson and Jordan Osmond have travelled around New Zealand to find people, couples and families who prove that it's easy to live more sustainably. Photo / Supplied
Film-makers Antoinette Wilson and Jordan Osmond have travelled around New Zealand to find people, couples and families who prove that it's easy to live more sustainably. Photo / Supplied

We're facing these issues globally because we've become disconnected; we no longer know what the "right" way to live is in the world we've created.

We can see a lot of what's wrong but we can't bring ourselves to accept everything that's wrong, the enormity of it, and we definitely can't conceive of how to get back to having a healthy planet and being a healthy species.

If we're told every day – as we are, one way or the other – that continual growth is necessary and good, then of course we'll continue to destroy the planet for the supposed greater good.

In the film, US writer Charles Eisenstein says "The current system has to go through a collapse. Unless you believe infinite growth is possible on a finite planet."

Those words had a big impact on us: if growth is not good, how must we live so that the children of today will not only survive, but thrive?

So how did you go about collecting the stories in it?

We did a lot of online research to begin with, then we crowd-funded the finances to travel around New Zealand meeting the people we'd made contact with.

Hawke's Bay's Greg Hart has been turning a sheep and cattle station into an eco-friendly farm. Photo / Supplied
Hawke's Bay's Greg Hart has been turning a sheep and cattle station into an eco-friendly farm. Photo / Supplied

What we loved most about this experience was that over half the people we ended up making films about were people we hadn't set out to meet in the first place.

Everywhere we stopped, we got talking to locals about what we were doing and invariably someone said, "Oh, you have to meet so-and-so!"

And of course they weren't all people with an online presence with whom we would have connected through our research.

We met so many incredible, inspiring people – far more potential film content than we had the capacity to use.

New Zealand is brimming with inspiring people, inspiring projects and inspiring stories.

We also connected with people along the way whose message we really wanted to share through film, but who didn't always have other things going on in their lives to weave a story around.

In fact, this feature-length documentary grew out of a series of short films we made for YouTube.

The information we were gathering felt so important to us, and we realised that we could incorporate it in this project if it culminated in a feature film that brought all of that material together.

You met quite a few people - farmers, designers, community champions - from different backgrounds, but with similar goals. How inspiring was it to hear their stories?

We were immensely inspired by the people we met; it was a life-changing project for us.

Originally from the Netherlands, Frank Van Steensel and Josje Neerincx bought a patchy piece of land in the Wairarapa and turned it into Wairarapa Eco Farm. Photo / Supplied
Originally from the Netherlands, Frank Van Steensel and Josje Neerincx bought a patchy piece of land in the Wairarapa and turned it into Wairarapa Eco Farm. Photo / Supplied

We learnt so much on this trip - and made many new friends.

Our knowledge of the issues and of the solutions has deepened and we've made many changes in our own lives as a result of our travels – we live more simply, we're more conscious consumers, we're more hopeful for the future than we were when we set out.

The people you'll meet in the film are from all walks of life, all of them working in their own way towards the same goal: to create a sustainable, healthy, fair, and better way of life for everyone.

Much of addressing huge environmental challenges like climate change comes down to what governments, cities and sectors do. Are you optimistic that ordinary people can be led to make changes in their own lives? And how much depends on individual action?

Everything depends on both individual action and the action of governing bodies.

Everything.

As individuals make change and become excited about making change, they demand of their governments the resources and structures to make even more and greater change.

Leo Murray runs Bay of Plenty sustainability initiative, Why Waste, which aims to reduce the amount of organic matter in our waste. Photo / Supplied
Leo Murray runs Bay of Plenty sustainability initiative, Why Waste, which aims to reduce the amount of organic matter in our waste. Photo / Supplied

Governments must eventually respond to that.

It would be so helpful if they would respond willingly and urgently.

It's easy to think that individual actions make no difference.

We think individual actions make all the difference.

One of the most powerful things we can do as individuals is use our spending to demand change – to vote with our dollars – by making conscious decisions about where we get our food, how much waste we create and how we deal with it, the origin and makeup of the resources we consume.

It all has a ripple effect on the world around us.

Our lives are intimately connected to the natural world around us, and without a healthy planet, we can't be healthy either.

Waveney Warth (pictured) and partner Matthew Luxon first came to national attention a decade ago when they challenged themselves to live for one year without creating any rubbish. Photo / Supplied
Waveney Warth (pictured) and partner Matthew Luxon first came to national attention a decade ago when they challenged themselves to live for one year without creating any rubbish. Photo / Supplied

If there's anything you want people to take away from the documentary, what is it?

Our central message is that each one of us has the potential to create change and our actions matter.

The current level of consumption in first world countries like New Zealand is a main driver of all the issues the world is facing.

We need to learn to live differently – there is no technological fix to the issues we're facing; we simply have to consume less.

This doesn't mean we all have to suffer deprivation and hardship until the world is healthy again.

It means we need to learn how to live with a less-is-more mentality, becoming conscious of what and how we consume.

Our experience so far is that this mentality produces a more satisfying, healthier, more connected way to live.