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Students & Goliath: How the Youth Took on the Fossil Fuel Industry

Now Available on YouTube


        This is the story of how the Fossil Free Movement began, told by the students who are leading the way. Students & Goliath follows the divestment campaigns of five schools in Massachusetts. Eight students lockdown and are arrested inside an energy company’s office to protest a devastating pipeline proposal. Students build community and rally their town to break the climate silence. 1,253 people are arrested outside of the White House. 40,000 gather in Washington DC to demand action.

Students & Goliath is the story of a generation waking up,

becoming empowered, and taking the climate crisis into their own hands.

Students & Goliath was screened at colleges and universities across the country, from UCLA to Harvard, igniting discussions and action as the movement grows. The goal of the film is to educate, inspire, and promote further action. Now on YouTube – it can continue to do just that.


In my first semester at Hampshire College, as a film student, I picked up a camera and began following the movement unfolding around me. Ironically, most schools of higher education invest parts of their endowments in the fossil fuel industry. They are literally investing in the destruction of their own students’ future. In the fall of 2012, students at several schools across the country began to demand their universities divest their endowment from supporting the fossil fuel industry. Bill McKibben and helped bring the campaign to the national spotlight, and with my own school, Hampshire College, divesting, the movement was underway. Students & Goliath chronicles the first year of the divestment movement, how it spread from 17 colleges nationwide to over 300, the struggles encountered, and the empowerment these students found in their fight.

For me, one of the most rewarding moments after the film’s release was at a showing at Wesleyan University, hosted by their divestment campaign. During the post-screening discussion, a student stood up and admitted that earlier that very day he had argued against divestment; now, he asked how he could help. I’ve seen many of the same reactions, as people my age realize that they can be part of the solution. It’s an empowering feeling. I think it’s very important for youth today, growing up in a world that’s dying just as we are getting to know it, to learn that while the climate crisis is terrifying, we are a part of that story. And when faced with the choice to join the fight or hide away, know that it is too exciting, too thrilling not to be a part of this story.


The students are far from alone. Bill McKibben (founder,, Jill Stein (Green Party 2012 Presidential Candidate), and former president of the World Resources Institute and current Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash speak for the older generation working in solidarity with the youth. Michael Brune (Executive Director, Sierra Club), Van Jones (President, Rebuild the Dream), Sheldon Whitehouse (US Senator, Rhode Island), Rev. Lennox Yearwood (President, Hip Hop Caucus), and Chief Jacqueline Thomas (Saik’uz First Nation) appear in the film from the “Forward on Climate” rally in Washington, DC.


The youth today have grown up in a rapidly warming world. The melting of the Arctic, catastrophic floods and storms worldwide, and rising sea levels are the new reality of the 21st century. The Millennial Generation’s greatest challenge – the global climate crisis – has yet to be faced. While the crisis mounts, the world’s most powerful governments and corporations seem unwilling to act. Why?

As the seas rise, so do the fossil fuel industry’s profits. It’s no coincidence that in a year when the Arctic ice cap melted to half its 1970 level, Exxon Mobil made more money than any other corporation in history. Six out of the seven richest companies in the world are oil and gas companies. Which explains why the fossil fuel industry spends billions lobbying the Federal government to weaken industry regulations and block any climate legislation that would threaten their bottom line.


Alex Leff (Writer/Director/Editor/Producer) –

Students & Goliath is the first documentary feature film by student filmmaker, Alex Leff.

Immediately upon entering Hampshire College, an alternative liberal arts school in western Massachusetts, Alex became involved in the burgeoning fossil fuel divestment movement. Along with creating Students & Goliath, Alex helped lead Hampshire’s divestment campaign and worked with the other four colleges in the area – Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts  – on their campaigns as well. Leading environmentalist and founder Bill McKibben interviewed Alex in his 2013 Rolling Stone article, “The Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment.”

Alex studies storytelling through film, ecology, and history – now in his second year at Hampshire College. He also interns with filmmaker Robbie Leppzer and Turning Tide Productions as an assistant editor.


Students & Goliath is available here:

For more on the film:

For more on the movement:

Ashbourne Films’ next feature film: Path of Least Resistance will be completed in 2015

More information on the project can be found here: