Q&A: Anthony James of The Rescope Project

Published on March 21, 2018
Categories - Blog, Events, Featured, Q&A

Direct from screening in Melbourne and Sydney, Transitions Film Festival focuses on sharing positive stories about the solutions to society’s greatest challenges and showcases the local heroes and changemakers who are building a better world.

Kira caught up with the Director of sustainability NGO The Rescope Project, Anthony James, who has been involved in Transitions since the beginning, to chat about the Festival, sustainability and activism.

The Festival is coming to Perth for the first time from 23-25 March with an enthralling line-up of cutting-edge documentaries about the existential challenges, mega-trends, and creative visions that are redefining what it means to be human.

Hola Anthony! You’re fluent in Spanish, how did that come about?

A while back now, I was so done with the whole cycle of earn and spend, while what I really wanted to do was being sidelined, that I sold everything I owned and got a one way ticket out of Australia with a vision – to give everything I could to a place, doing the most meaningful things I could, where I knew it would be of value, in exchange for essentially food and board. Money would not be a limiting factor.

To cut a long story short (and there were some twists and turns), the vision became reality. Fray Bartolome de las Casas, in Alta Verapaz, in pretty much the centre of Guatemala, Central America, became home for a number of years.

Can you tell us a bit about The Rescope Project?

It’s a not-for-profit that launched last year with a series of major public forums in Melbourne – 3 forums, 7 special guests, and a total of 700 people in attendance over an 8 day period. Soon after, we started our podcast Rescope Radio and went from there. What we’re trying to do is get to the heart of sustainability. This includes furthering a national dialogue beyond the unsustainable and unfulfilling consumer treadmill, to create new visions and systems for what’s most important in life. And to empower people, organisations and cities to create sustainable quality living, for themselves and society as a whole.

This means grappling not just with reducing waste or energy use (though they’re important), but with what it means to be in civilisational transition – and from a range of perspectives. We are becoming a different society quickly – the key is to try and create our preferred vision. the best of who we can be, rather than succumb to some of the negative shifts happening in the world. And there is so much good stuff happening.

How did you get from being essentially ‘career driven’ to where you are now? 

Ah, I can’t say I was ever career driven. I was brought up to be career driven. Aren’t most of us? But that never made much sense to me. I was much more interested in being life driven. Some people might see those things as the same thing, and for them, maybe it is. But for me, being life driven meant doing the most meaningful thing I could imagine, living the full adventure of life, and in the context of what life calls for – personally, through to the society I live in, and of course this beautiful ocean planet.

In my experience, career choices weren’t much like that. We tend to need to create these paths. For me, I did graduate from a corporate-funded undergrad in business systems but promptly left all that to play in a rock band for a decade. I grew up there really. When the band ended, Guatemala became home, but not before I met the bloke who founded the precursor to The Rescope Project. He was Australia’s first environmental educator of the year. I later returned to Australia and had the privilege of working with him, which later led to becoming director of The Rescope Project.

Would you describe yourself as an activist?

I tend not to. Though I guess if you say an activist is someone who acts on their values, rather than simply talking or thinking about them, I guess I am. For me, what I do is more about living as fully and as gracefully as I can. This includes relishing connection with all life, including all people, from all walks and backgrounds. After all, we are a fascinating bunch, and we’re all in this set of civilisational challenges together. I’m engaged in life.

You know, I used to teach a sustainability post-grad degree at Swinburne Uni. This was called education for sustainability. But I thought of it as just good education. Similarly, I think of what I do as just good living – at least, the best I can muster.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability actually doesn’t mean much to me anymore. It’s still the label that seems to best relate what I do to others, but simply sustaining what we’ve got seems like such a dull and limited ambition. That’s where the framework of regeneration seems so much more uplifting and empowering for people. And infers so much more than simply recycling or turning off the lights (though as I said earlier, they are important) – it gets at the core question of what sort of society do we want to live in, for life to flourish?

I often ask at our forums, what’s the most important thing in life? People give the same answers wherever I go – family, health, purpose, contribution, nature, relationships etc. I then ask rhetorically what’s the economy for? And then, were the answers the same? If not, what are we doing?

As much as anything, I’d say sustainability is really about it being time to align our systems and cultural narratives more closely with what we actually want in life, personally and collectively.

The Transitions Film Festival has been inspiring audiences and powering social change across Australia since 2012 – why has it come to Perth now, and how did you get involved?

Ah, that’s the funny part – for me anyway! I’ve been guesting at the Melbourne festival since it began, and since I moved back home to Perth I had been egging the director on to run it over here. Last year he put it right back on me, and said why don’t you run it? I said no thanks. But then the films were so good, the cinema was so keen, and a community started to rally around it, so here we are!

Certainly, as a musician and writer, it’s not lost on me how crucial and wonderful the arts are in musing over our lot as human societies. So it has felt brilliant, in the end, to be giving this festival a go in Perth.

Which special guest speakers are you most looking forward to hearing from?

Oh, they are all so brilliant. Which is indicative, really, of just how rich it is to get more deeply and directly involved in this stuff. These people have been doing their thing for a long time now, and in amazing ways. It’s a real highlight to combine these international films with such inspiring local folk – especially when that local presence is as good an authority on the issues as anyone in the world. Or as good a comedian, in the case of Andrea Gibbs.

What can Perth audiences expect?

Essentially, as we’re running for a weekend first, to see if this works, to see if Perth wants this festival, we got to choose the very best of a 2 week program in Melbourne. So Perth punters will see the best of the best, and with brilliant guests, at a great venue, with a range of partners involved. So there’ll be the inspiration of the films, the conversation after the films, a bit of comedy before one of them (on the Saturday), and hopefully a platform to get further involved in one or more initiatives.

The film Free Lunch Society looks at the history and possible future of the universal basic income. How have documentary films changed the way you see the world?

Yeah, for me, they’ve been fundamental. Books too, and certainly music. Especially music. But documentaries are such a special way to delve into an issue – so privately, but still with others. I had a chat with the award-winning Canadian director of A New Economy, Trevor Meier, for our podcast last year (when his film screened at the Melbourne festival), and I asked him what was so special about documentary film making. He didn’t even know! But knew it to affect people. And as a medium, it has certainly affected me over the years.

As for Free Lunch Society, what a great film. And about something that is a serious prospect in many places around the world, and if it’s done right it could be a real game changer for the better.

How can Perth film makers get involved in Transitions?

That’s a great question. This is part of the vision – for this festival to become such a feature on the Perth calendar, that we not only get the best films from around the world, but the best from around Perth and WA too. And that it animates more of the arts to get involved in this exploration of what it means to live well in the world, and how we create human societies that generate more of the conditions for that sort of living.

If the festival works this year, then we’ll talk more about these possibilities. Certainly, I encourage local film makers to contact me at The Rescope Project and express interest any time.

You host a podcast called Rescope Radio. What’s been your favourite episode so far?

Hard to choose. I deliberately run a variety of guests, from grass roots to global leaders, from business people to artists, to farmers, to academics, to activists. So they’re all fascinating and instructive from a range of perspectives. In the name of being in the moment, I’d just say my favourite is the one I’ve just produced. And it was a special one – with Paul Hawken, one of the most influential figures in regenerative development globally. His current project is spreading like wildfire around the world and is seriously positive and interesting stuff.

Which Perth-based projects should our readers be engaging with?

Oh, there are so many. This is one of the things you learn pretty quickly. And one of the reasons we started the forums and podcasts; to highlight, amplify, connect and leverage off everything that’s there, to create something that’s more than the sum of our parts. There’ll be a number of these projects at the festival. So come along to check them out too, and of course, sign up to The Rescope Project. We’ll continue to present inspirational encounters to help open up more of those sorts of opportunities.

What advice would you give someone who is socially engaged and interested in joining a Board?

Don’t hesitate! But get trained up. It’s an important role, but also one that so needs more people of more age and other diversity to get involved. Prepare, and then go for it. And then take your time, build relationships, learn and contribute where you can. No different from life in general, really.

In a previous interview, you’ve been quoted as saying, “life itself is the highlight”. How would you encourage others to live their best life?

Nice spot. Find your path, in a world that needs what you’ve got. Keep money in service, not as master. Connect your life to the big picture changes we need. And yeah, take your time, build relationships, learn and contribute where you can. Anthony

Featuring a stellar line-up of powerful films and inspirational guest speakers, Perth’s first Transitions Film Festival at Luna Outdoor from 23 – 25 March 2018 will change the way you look at the world.


Fri 23 March | Albatross (97min) Special guests will feature at this screening
Sat 24 March | Free Lunch Society (95min) Special guests will feature at this screening
Sun 25 March | A Silent Transformation (70min) A panel discussion will follow the screening.

Guest Speakers include

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, Founder & Director of the Plastic Free July Foundation, Associate Professor Andrea Gaynor, an environmental historian with UWA, Andrea Gibbs, co-founder of Barefaced Stories, actor, and presenter on ABC Digital, Chris Twomey, Research & Policy Development Leader at WACOSS, and Chair of the Green Institute, Paul Flatau, Director of the Centre for Social Impact at UWA, Kerrie Nayler, from P&N Bank on behalf of the Business Council for Co-Operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), Andrea Biondo from Galactic Co-Operative.
Find out more on the website and Facebook Event page. 

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