Director – Rachel Lears
Rachel Lears is a documentary director, producer and cinematographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Rachel's last feature documentary, Knock Down the House (Netflix), follows four women who ran insurgent congressional campaigns in 2018, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush. The film won the US Documentary Audience Award and the Festival Favorite award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, was shortlisted for an Oscar and nominated for an Emmy in 2020. Her previous feature, The Hand That Feeds (co-directed with Robin Blotnick; PBS), won numerous festival awards and was nominated for an Emmy in 2017. Rachel received the IDA Emerging Filmmaker Award in 2019, and also holds a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from NYU.
Producer – Sabrina Schmidt-Gordon
Sabrina Schmidt-Gordon is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and impact strategist from NYC. She was selected for the prestigious Women at Sundance Fellowship in 2017, and in 2018 was inducted into The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Sabrina is the producer of the award-winning and New York Times Critic’s Pick Quest, which premiered at Sundance in 2017, the same year her feature directing debut BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, was nominated for an Emmy. She is the co-producer and editor of Documented, the story of Pulitzer Prize-winning undocumented journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas, which had record-breaking viewership on CNN. Sabrina is chair of the Black Documentary Collective, and has served on the faculty at Columbia University.
Editor – Robin Blotnick
Robin Blotnick produced and edited the Netflix documentary Knock Down The House (winner of the US Documentary Audience Award and the Festival Favorite award at Sundance 2019) which follows four working class women who shook up the 2018 primary elections. His previous work as director and editor includes the award-winning documentaries The Hand That Feeds (2014, co-directed with Rachel Lears), about a bitter struggle for justice at a New York City bagel shop, and Gods and Kings (2012), about masks, magic and media in the Guatemalan highlands. His archival collage City of Movement is currently playing on infinite loop at the Museum of the City of New York.
Making The Film
The idea for To the End
came about in Fall 2018 during the post-production of Knock Down the House
. I became galvanized to focus a new project on the climate crisis when the UN’s 2018 IPCC report revealed that the key to averting climate catastrophe is political will. The project soon coalesced around Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other visionary young leaders working on the Green New Deal: Varshini Prakash, Alexandra Rojas, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright. Building upon my last two features, I think of To the End as a continuing exploration of how power works in the US, how historic change happens, and how people find the courage to become part of it through movements. Like my previous films, this film required a leap of faith, foresight and risk to commit to following a controversial vérité story with an uncertain outcome.
The climate crisis can be so overwhelming that it can lead to feelings of despair or cynicism, especially when we see how it intertwines with other crises including the pandemic, racial and economic inequality, and political violence. Our protagonists confront this reality head on, and find the courage to act in the face of it, drawing inspiration from social movements that have successfully sparked transformative change in the past. Their efforts lead directly to major climate policy becoming a priority of the Biden administration and the Democratic Party, and ultimately to a scaled back but still major climate bill being passed. While the film ends here, the story does not, as our protagonists vow to continue fighting for solutions that match the scale that science demands and leave no one behind. Moreover, we feel strongly that telling these women’s stories has particular historic significance because the leadership and contributions of women of color have so often been overlooked in the United States.
To the End is grounded in character-based, on-the-ground vérité storytelling and intimate interviews in the style of Knock Down the House, an approach I’ve been working with for over a decade. The film incorporates large-scale aerial cinematography to evoke the sheer scale of the systems that have to change to address the climate crisis. We use archival collage to explore the historical and cultural dimensions of paradigm shift, and to examine critically how the media shape worldviews and horizons of possibility. By playing with tropes of dystopian fiction in aspects of the score, lighting, color grading, and sound design, we aim to draw audiences into a cinematic world where critical issues become the backdrop for individuals to forge a path that is always at once heroic and imperfect. Throughout, we build a driving narrative and explore our characters’ vulnerability and strength in a behind-the-scenes, first-person account of history as it is made.
Shot in 11 states and Washington, DC over the course of nearly four years of interlocking global and national tumult, the production process of To the End required our committed core team to continually draw inspiration and learning from the strength, dedication and self-reflection of our remarkable protagonists. The film frames their fight for a just and sustainable future as an epic coming of age story of courageous young women confronting multiple dystopian dimensions—climate disaster itself, the corporate media, and the Kafkaesque world of DC politics. I want To the End to stand as a unique historical document of how the United States came to make the largest investment to fight the climate crisis ever made by any country, while also offering viewers an opportunity to emotionally process the existential anxiety of this historical moment, and imagine themselves in new roles as part of changing the future.
Rachel Lears, Director