Private Project

Carbon - The Unauthorised Biography

With Carbon in the news every day, you might think you know everything about her. But you’d be wrong. This spectacular and surprisingly unorthodox documentary reveals the story of the element that builds all life, and yet may also end it.

Narrated in first person by Sarah Snook (Succession), Carbon tells of her birth in the violent core of an exploding star and of her turbulent sagas through the fabric of our evolving planet. With breathless exhilaration, she reveals how she unlocked the evolution of all life forms, including us. But now, as humans liberate vast stores of buried Carbon to fuel our world, we’re discovering her dark side: she is the enabler of life, and she is also its destroyer. What happens next – reconciliation or ruin – is up to us.

Carbon’s life story is stunningly animated by acclaimed artist Bruce Alcock (Global Mechanic). Accompanied by an intoxicating orchestral score, celebrated scientists including Neil deGrasse Tyson, Suzanne Simard, and Katharine Hayhoe present its complexity with breathtaking clarity and infectious wonder. Carbon’s epic tale reminds us of the profound fragility of the natural world and of our humble participation in the most extraordinary story in the universe.  

  • Daniella Ortega
    Enigma Man, A Stone Age Mystery, Whatever! The Science of Teens, Is Your House Killing You?, Battle of the Brains,
  • Niobe Thompson
    A Bee's Diary, Fast Horse, The Long Today, Boy Nomad, Equus - Story of the Horse, The Great Human Odyssey, Vital Bonds, The Perfect Runner
  • Daniella Ortega
    Lawless: The Real Bushrangers, Enigma Man a Stone Age Mystery, Battle of the Brains
  • Lucy Maclaren
    Cracking COVID, The Story of Lee Ping, Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears, Aftermath: Beyond Black Saturday, Land Artists, The Diplomat, the Artist and the Suit, RocKwiz
  • Niobe Thompson
    Fast Horse, A Bee's Diary, Boy Nomad, Equus - Story of the Horse, The Great Human Odyssey, Vital Bonds, The Perfect Runner
  • Sonya Pemberton
    Cracking Covid, JABBED-love, fear and vaccines, Vitamania: The Sense and Nonsense of Vitamins, Lawless: The Real Bushrangers, Uranium: Twisting The Dragon’s Tail, Immortal
  • Sarah Snook
    Key Cast
    "Voice of Carbon"
    Succession, Predestination, The Dressmaker, Oddball, Pieces of a Woman, An American Pickle, Brothers' Nest, Soulmates
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 26 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    November 12, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    2,000,000 AUD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Australia, Canada, France, Mongolia, United Kingdom, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital UHD
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Daniella Ortega, Niobe Thompson


Daniella Ortega is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and screen professional dedicated to excellence in storytelling and communicating complex concepts in innovative ways.  Daniella is the originator, Writer and Co-Director of Carbon - An unauthorised biography, an unconventional documentary project responding to the climate emergency we are living in.

Focussed on high-end documentaries about science, history and natural history, Daniella’s work traverses subjects as diverse as archaeological discovery, colonial violence and the mysteries of the teenage brain.  An accomplished Series Producer, she has steered major complex projects for a variety of international broadcasters. Daniella has recently joined the documentary team at Screen Australia as a Development and Investment Manager, a role that allows her to draw on her experience to support the wider documentary industry.



The documentaries of anthropologist-filmmaker Niobe Thompson reach back to our human origins, explore the mysteries of evolution, and tackle the environmental dilemmas of the Anthropocene. As a science and adventure host, he makes a laboratory of his body and mind, a storytelling style the Globe & Mail calls “indescribable, but brilliant.” As a verité director, he brings unique and powerful moments in the human experience to the screen, from Siberian reindeer herders, to ancient DNA laboratories, to the organ transplant surgeries.

Niobe’s work has won three Canadian Screen Awards for Best Science and Nature Documentary, wins at Sundance and Jackson Hole, and two Emmy nominations. A long-time collaborator with Canadian-born composer Darren Fung, he presents select documentaries to live audiences as orchestral performances. After co-directing and co-producing the feature documentary Carbon - An unauthorised biography, Niobe will start filming in 2022 on a new documentary for Tangled Bank Studios called Before the Ice, about the ancient DNA revolution.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement


Carbon - the most talked about but least understood element on Earth.  There is so much talk about carbon and climate that I fear I’ve become desensitized to the noise. Yet I know that this is the most important issue of our time.

I have two young children. In a world with a climate already changed and a future filled with the destructive consequences of this, I want to offer them a narrative that can best prepare them for the journey ahead, and that I believe is the life story of Carbon. Like a modern origin story it seeks to unify, to provide clarity and understanding of our world and our place in it, especially in relation to the climate crisis. This telling of Carbon’s story seeks to cross the boundary between the factual story of climate change and our emotional selves, to forge a personal connection between viewers and Carbon.

My approach is to build an intimate, emotional and personal documentary biography of this wondrous element Carbon as if she were human.  By blurring the line between living and non-living, the invisible and the visible, for the first time we give Carbon a voice: she needs to be heard.

The genesis of this approach was a short story imagining the life of a single carbon atom by chemist Primo Levi in his book The Periodic Table. When I read this story, it brought carbon to life so vividly that it took my breath away. My approach was to go further, to make Carbon a ‘character’ and visualise her multiple personalities and adventures.

Our film is now over 4 years in the making. In 2017, the first person to embrace this unconventional vision was Executive Producer, Sonya Pemberton (Genepool Productions). In 2018, we received crucial development support from Shark Island Institute and Film Victoria. Then in late 2019, I was catching up with an old friend, esteemed Canadian filmmaker Niobe Thompson, talking again about the ‘carbon film’ I wanted to make. Niobe came on board as a co-production partner, Executive Producer and Co-Director. Now with the strength of two powerhouse Executive Producers determined to pull together the finance and team to realise this project, we were finally up and running in 2020. And then the COVID 19 pandemic swept the world.

Making a global, complex, ambitious film is fraught with challenges at the best of times, so the pandemic added another layer of complexity. However, between the co-production partners we were able to divide the hemispheres, film in person where we could and pull together the best teams on the ground where we couldn’t.

Our onscreen experts we chose were excellent at embracing the approach of personifying Carbon, expressing their own emotional connections to Carbon – whether it be admiration, love or fear. And our animation team led by Bruce Alcock (Global Mechanic) in his signature painterly style has transcended my imagination of how we could visualise Carbon and her journeys.

Now in the midst of another pandemic wave, we release the film. It’s been an epic ride getting to this point, almost like the journey of Carbon herself!

For Carbon is so much more than a climate monster. Her life story illuminates something more fundamental and profound - that we are all intimately interconnected to the planet and everything on it. Carbon is the wondrous common thread that binds us all.  

We want to change the narrative about Carbon, to provide a basis for more impactful and sophisticated conversations, while motivating viewers towards actions that combat climate change. If we are to deeply understand and care about climate change and life on earth, we need to understand Carbon.

Carbon is life, Carbon is us. 

Daniella Ortega, Writer & Co-Director.



Several years ago, I realized there were no stories left to tell about the natural world that aren’t somehow shaped by our changing climate. Carbon – an unauthorised biography embraces the biggest science story one could possibly tell – the story of life through the eyes of its central atomic constituent – and yet, once again, our narrative leads us to a warming world. This is what it means to make science documentaries today, as the climate emergency begins.

The last seven years (starting in 2016) were the hottest ever recorded. Each decade since 1980 has been hotter than the previous one. We have known about this growing crisis since I was a child. In an historic address to Congress in the summer of 1988, NASA climate scientist James Hansen electrified the world with these words: “In my opinion, the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” Hansen’s words marked the birth of public awareness of climate change, but also the beginning of an effective campaign of corporate pushback. Today, as much greenhouse has been emitted since Hansen’s testimony as in the two centuries previous to his announcement.

The good news is, large majorities in most countries (including my own, Canada) finally accept that the climate is changing and that human activities are the culprit. In 2015, the community of nations agreed in Paris to make our planet safe by limiting global warming to under 2 degrees Centigrade by the middle of this century. That means we must halve global carbon emissions by the end of this decade, and reach net zero by 2050. Difficult as this goal might be, it finally feels like we have a blueprint for change.

For me, the challenge is personal. By 2050, my two teenage girls will be in the middle of their own professional careers and parenting storms. With luck, by that time I’ll be a white-haired grandfather. And my girls, alongside their own children, will be asking me what I was doing as the climate emergency took hold. Whether or not we succeed in making the transition to net zero, their lives will inevitably and entirely be shaped by that emergency. No matter what we do now, their seas will be rising, their summers will be hotter, and their weather will be weirder.

So, I believe the story of my children, and of their entire generation, will be a story of change, of adaptation, and of finding hope in new ways of life. Carbon – an unauthorised biography is likewise a story of transformation, for carbon is the great shapeshifter, the element that gives us life and renewal just as she threatens our survival.

Two years ago, my co-director Daniella Ortega and my co-producer Sonya Pemberton invited me to join them in making Carbon, bringing our Canadian team of cinematographers, animators, musicians, and editors alongside their team in Australia. I jumped at the opportunity because I was entranced by the ambition and scope of their vision: to tell the story of our world, and our present moment, through the eyes of the element at the core of it all. I loved the idea of walking away from the thankless politics of the “climate wars” into an agnostic and open-eyed journey through the story of carbon life. We hear the cliché “everything is connected”, but with Carbon, here was the opportunity to actually explore the fascinating chemical reality of that idea. Carbon’s journeys through our world really are the tendrils of matter and energy that connect us with all things.

We aren’t at war with carbon. We are carbon, and carbon is in almost everything around us. Carbon’s gifts are generous, and endless. Right now, we find ourselves stuck in a difficult moment, because we have taken carbon’s gifts for granted. But I believe that if we better understood carbon’s many faces, creative and destructive, we could rise above the politics of carbon into the realm of science. And there, we could work together to put carbon back into the balance we need for our children to have good future.

In 2050, when my children ask me what I was doing about the climate emergency, this film will be my answer.

Niobe Thompson, Co-Director & Co-Producer