By Mark Kitchell, director, producer and writer of American Masters: A Fierce Green Fire.
Kermit the Frog had it right: it’s not easy being green. As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day #44 tomorrow, those of us concerned with environmental protection face a conundrum. Earth Day is the time for renewal of the environmental movement: how do we get and keep people interested in one of the most important issues of our time?
My film, A FIERCE GREEN FIRE: The Battle for a Living Planet, is the first big-picture exploration of the environmental movement, spanning fifty years of issues from conservation to climate change. It will have its national broadcast premiere tomorrow, Earth Day, (Tuesday, April 22) at 9pm as part of PBS’s American Masters series.
While we’re thrilled and hope for a big audience, as green filmmakers we worry that few will be watching. Part of the problem is the “ecobummer” syndrome: environmentally themed films, no matter how good, are about problems and can be depressing. Our way around this was to focus on activism rather than just issues, with stories of people fighting for causes and succeeding against enormous odds. It’s a more impassioned and optimistic approach that invites the audience to witness and identify.
Socially conscious films often preach but we tried to keep the preaching out of it. Occasionally we let an interviewee rail but primarily we embed the issues and ideas in stories and characters. No less an authority on drama than E.O. Wilson, the great conservation biologist who advised the film, told us to pick five of the movement’s most dramatic and important events and people and build the film around them. Our choices?
— David Brower and the Sierra Club halting dams in the Grand Canyon
— Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal housewives fighting 20,000 tons of toxic waste
— Paul Watson and Greenpeace’s campaigns to save whales and baby harp seals
— Chico Mendes and Brazilian rubber tappers’ fight to save the Amazon rainforest
— And who else to end with but Bill McKibben and the 25 years-and-counting effort to address climate change?
The goal was to bring together all the parts of this enormous global movement and create a synthesis that yields broader and deeper meanings to the environmental cause. I think we’ve succeeded and that the issues we raise will continue to be discussed long after tomorrow night’s premiere. To start the conversation, American Masters, Sierra Club and ITVS will host an exclusive online social screening of the first 20 minutes of the film tonight at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT (The social screening uses OVEE — a social TV platform from ITVS serving public media and other partners with free streaming video from the PBS library, YouTube, and Ustream). Sierra Club conservationist Bruce Hamilton will participate in tonight’s preview and a live chat about the Sierra Club and current Earth Day priorities. Post-broadcast, I will participate in an OVEE screening of the entire film on Wednesday, April 23 at 5:30 p.m.ET/2:30 p.m. PT.
Now that we have a national audience via PBS, its social network, and online screenings, we hope viewers respond and that the film can take the conversation and the cause further.
Mark Kitchell is best known for Berkeley in the Sixties, which won the Audience Award at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award. He has worked in non-fiction television, taught at UC Santa Cruz, and devoted over a decade to developing, making and distributing A Fierce Green Fire.
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