An Interview with Producer of Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet on Netflix

The new feature documentary, Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, grew from collaborative seeds planted at Long Run founding member Segera’s Leadership Retreat two years ago. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough and featuring the work of Professor Johan Rockstöm, the film looks at the discovery of the planetary thresholds we must not exceed, not just for the stability of our planet but the future of humanity. It offers up the solutions we can and must put in place now if we are to protect Earth’s life support systems.  The full documentary is now available on Netflix.


To celebrate its release, here we talk to one of the film’s producers Kate Garwood, founder of Indikate Productions.


Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet stemmed from a leadership gathering at Segera, founding member of The Long Run. Could you tell us a little about these annual gatherings and how the documentary came about during one? 


Our Segera Leadership gatherings came from our desire to connect people and experience Segera as a creative hub for ideas and progress. We already understood the power of the land and the inspiration it creates, and we had access to so many extraordinary, like-minded leaders from so many worlds (art, conservation, business, fashion, film, music, science, technology, politics, activism, NGO’s and philanthropy etc) from our larger network of colleagues, guests and friends and we wanted to put these people together – both as speakers and participants – for a few days immersed in the wilderness of Segera to see what ideas would take form. Our first gathering was such a success that we’ve held them annually ever since. We bring people from all over the world to connect and learn from game-changers across many fields and be inspired to take action.


Everyone usually stays for the duration, so the speakers and participants really get the chance to go through this bonding experience together. There are talks and panels, film screenings and musical performances, and also a chance to explore and re-wild on safari, and indulge in wellness, great food and conversation. Each year we have a slightly different focus but there’s always a strong connection between the power of nature, conservation and art. People usually leave our gatherings as life-long friends and collaborators. It is remarkable how much magic has been created over these few days each year, and some of the projects that have come out of these gatherings are truly ground-breaking, including our new ‘Breaking Boundaries’ documentary.


The ‘planetary boundaries’ concept was shared with us by world-renowned environmental scientist Johan Rockstrom, who was a speaker at our Segera leadership gathering in 2019. The concepts he presented were so concise and powerful that we felt they urgently needed to be shared with a larger audience.


Also, in attendance that year were the team from Silverback Films, creators of the ‘Our Planet’ series, and a couple of philanthropists who wanted to invest in impact filmmaking. So, the next natural step was to collaborate on a film all together, and Breaking Boundaries was born.


Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet is going to be one of the most hard-hitting climate crisis documentaries to grace our screens. What impact do you hope it will have on everyone from individuals to governments? 


I believe the power of the Breaking Boundaries documentary is that while it doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of climate change and its increasing devastation on planet Earth, it also provides a scientific road map and offers solutions in a precise and relatable way. The film lays out the science we need to implement to protect the long-term survival of our planet and our species, in the form of these planetary boundaries that act as ‘tipping points’ in the Earth’s system processes, like climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, biodiversity loss, etc. These nine boundaries define a ‘safe operating system for humanity’ and provide measures for quantifying the damage we are doing and the potential ‘danger zone’ for each area.


The climate crisis feels so overwhelming, that as a person just going about your life it is hard to know exactly where to start and what you can do to make a difference. The hope for this documentary is that is accessible to everyone, using a language that people will be able to understand and digest.


Plus, David Attenborough – the world’s most trusted environmental steward! – narrates the film for us, which really adds to the power and urgency of the words. And it leaves you with a sense of optimism that everyone can do something, however large or small, on an individual level and a societal level. And, most importantly, there is still hope!


World leadership will obviously play a huge role in our future conservation trajectory, and we were lucky enough to get the film in front of John Kerry, the US climate envoy, who then showed part of the film to 40 world leaders at Biden’s Climate Summit a few weeks ago, which was a fantastic achievement. We also plan to show it at G7 and COP later this year, and the film also premieres on Netflix on June 4th, which will potentially reach millions of people around the world.

Professor Johan Rockström is an internationally recognized scientist on global sustainability issues. He is the founder of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Professor in Earth System Science at the University of Potsdam and Chief Scientific Advisor for Conservation International. Sir David Attenborough is Britain’s best-known natural history film-maker. His career as a natural history and broadcaster has spanned nearly seven decades. His first job - after Cambridge University and two years in the Royal Navy - was at a London publishing house. Then in 1952 he joined the BBC as a trainee producer and it was while working on the Zoo Quest series (1954-64) that he had his first opportunity to undertake expeditions to remote parts of the globe, to capture intimate footage of wildlife in its natural habitat.

The documentary will not only demonstrate how much work needs to be done to stem the crisis but also what solutions we can all contribute to. What solutions stand out for you? Any that particularly resonate, and you’ve taken on board? How has the making of the Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet changed your own outlook?


Loss of biodiversity, deforestation and land management resonate particularly with me, as they form a large part of our work in Kenya. We protect 50,000 acres of wilderness and endangered wildlife at Segera, and our retreat is also operated sustainably and run on a solar energy system. We also farm organically using permaculture techniques, grow all our own fruit and vegetables, recycle all our water and have also embarked on a massive reforestation project to plant over a million indigenous trees. We’ve also built schools that sit on top of huge water tanks, that harvest rainwater for the kids can grow vegetables and take water home with them.


One of the true lessons of projects like this, is understanding the preciousness of land, water and biodiversity and how interlinked everything is. Nature truly has all the answers.


The Long Run is a community of leaders in conservation and nature-based tourism. We are very aware of the carbon footprint of aviation and travel, but also how many vital conservation and regeneration projects are funded by tourism. Did the making of Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet challenge or confirm any of your own convictions about travelling to protect ecosystems?


There is clearly an environmental price to pay for traveling anywhere, and it’s the ultimate conflict for someone who cares deeply about the planet. At Segera we have created a fully sustainable safari experience that leaves the most minimal impact possible and also provides you with an opportunity to participate in conservation initiatives both on Segera, and back at home. For example, we calculate our guests’ carbon footprint from their travel and offer them a chance to offset it by planting trees as part of our reforestation project.


However, I also believe that experiencing nature in a truly immersive way, on the ground, really connects people to the environment. Our guests are often inspired to bring conservation into their everyday lives long-term after getting a chance to experience some of the last remaining wilderness on Earth. So, it’s about balancing our carbon footprint with the value of the conservation work we are trying to do. I think the pandemic has certainly allowed us all to streamline our work and our travel and has encouraged us to really travel with purpose these days. It’s also important to remember that many parts of the world have endured catastrophic financial impacts during covid, Kenya included, and we desperately need tourism to help countries and communities get back on their feet.


Any other projects you’d like to share?


We’ve also recently finished a documentary called ‘Ranger’ about Segera’s female wildlife ranger unit, the first all-women ranger unit in East Africa. We follow the journey of 12 extraordinary women from our local communities as they go through six months of intense training and deep personal transformation to become rangers. It is a beautiful film and I’m very proud of it. After that, I think I will be stepping back into the feature world. I’m hoping our next film will be a Western!


Segera is a Global Ecosphere Retreat and founder of The Long Run. Its 50,000 acre oasis of conservation at the foot of Mount Kenya operates according the The 4Cs — Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce.

Breaking Boundaries follows the scientific journey of world-renowned scientist Professor Johan Rockström who discusses this film with Sir David Attenborough in a blog on the Netflix Newsroom. The film is directed and produced by Jon Clay, executive produced by Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey, Colin Butfield, Jochen Zeitz and Kate Garwood. Original music by Hannah Cartwright and Ross Tones. They join the creators who are bringing broader awareness of environmental issues and solutions to Netflix viewers around the world. In 2020, 160 million Netflix households tuned in to at least one film or show that shined a light on sustainability, including Emmy-award winning Our Planet and Academy-Award nominated My Octopus Teacher.


This is Netflix’s third project with Sir David Attenborough, following Our Planet and David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet. Johan Rockström volunteers his time to advise Netflix on its sustainability strategy, including its recent climate commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2022. He will continue in this capacity as a part of the company’s independent advisory group of experts.

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