g The Film Panel Notetaker: Blog Action Day

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day. According to the Blog Action Day website, today "bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future."

In honor of Blog Action Day, here's a re-post of notes from a panel discussion I attended earlier this year at the Gen Art Film Festival:

The Role Media and the Arts Play in Saving the Planet
2007 Gen Art Film Festival
Saturday, April 14, 2007

Alexandra Wheeler (AW) – Planet Green Game
Morgan Clendaniel (MC) – Senior Editor, Good Magazine
Rob Stewart (RS) – Filmmaker, Sharkwater
Isaac Brown (IB) – Filmmaker, Gimme Green

The panel discussion was moderated by Jeff Abramson (JA), VP/Film Division, Gen Art, who explained that the festival wanted to create an evening with a social/environmental theme. They formed a partnership with Starbucks’ Planet Green Game to create the Gen Art Online Film Festival where people submitted green-themed short films and the winner will be awarded $2,500. Good Magazine is a co-sponsor. The bi-monthly magazine launched in September 2006 with an environmentally-responsible and politically active theme packaged into something exciting and palatable, said Morgan Clendaniel.

(JA) What was the inspiration for your films? What did you do before making your films?

(IB) Background was in journalism. Co-directed Gimme Green with Eric Flagg who is an environmental scientist. Was fascinated with consumption in American culture. Frustrated with how journalism was so disposable. Wanted to illustrate American consumption without turning people off and by entertaining.

(RS) Was a wildlife photographer. At age 19, went to the Galápagos Islands. Cut long lines that sharks were illegally trapped in. This opened his eyes. Spent two years doing photo stories on sharks. Used print articles to get the word out. Received only $1,300 in donations from magazines to help the sharks. Nobody really cared for protecting sharks, so he made Sharkwater to show how beautiful sharks really are so people will care about their protection. Sharks are killed for just their fins, and thrown back into the ocean. Used HD camera to shoot film that also was used for still shots sent to magazines. Was never a filmmaker before this. The film allowed him to deliver a more powerful message that with his print articles. Didn’t want his movie to be just an “activist” movie. Movie was made to effect change. It first sucks you in as a cool movie and then hammers you with conservation. The whole experience was a learning curve. After shooting the film, it was very conservation-oriented. Discovery Channel asked if it had any shark attacks in it.

(JA) What else beside the magazine is Good involved with?

(MC) Good had a movie company first before the magazine was published. The magazine was created to continually update people.

(JA) What’s Planet Green Game about? Have any other ideas been conceived for Planet Green Game beside your web presence?

(AW) An online game about the day in the life of a character in a place called EverGreen. Character makes choices that have impacts. Learn lesson that have global applications. Tools to talk to the community. Trying to achieve the greatest reach possible in an authentic and engaging way so people take something meaningful away. Showing the seven short films from the Gen Art Online Film Festival. Also created an Earth group on Facebook for students about climate change.

(JA) What web presence do your films have? Anything else you’re doing to promote your films?

(IB) GimmeGreen.com has updates and facts. Three months ago, started an Alternative Lawn of the Month Club. Haven’t been getting too many hits. The message is sheik now, bow hasn’t really changed his personal habits. People are just talking about it, but not doing much about it yet.

(RS) SharkWater.com and A Band of Fear blog (Unable to find URL). People have made movies about the movie he made. Encourage everyone to talk about it. On Myspace, YouTube, Facebook. The Environmental Minister of Canada jumped into the cause. SavingSharks.com where you can choose which organizations to support. EcoVision Asia. Also helping to protect the endangered spiny dogfish, which made into flake.

(JA) What causes do Good Magazine’s subscribers’ contributions go to?

(MC) Subscribers choose where their money goes out of 12 not-for-profit organizations including: Ashoka (social entrepreneurship), City Year (civic service), Creative Commons (technology & sharing), Donors Choose (classroom needs), Generation Engage (political engagement), Millennium Promise (poverty alleviation), Oceana (clean seas), Room to Read (library building), Teach For America (needed teachers), UNICEF (children’s health), WITNESS (human rights) and World Wildlife Fund (climate change).

(JA) Did your subjects in Gimme Green know the direction of the film?

(IB) Didn’t have to manipulate people. Didn’t tell people it was about obsession with lawns, but love of lawns. Wanted everyone to share their perspective.

(JA) What do you think of Michael Moore’s style of documentary filmmaking. Can this hurt a cause?

(IB) Moore polarizes people. We need documentaries to unite people. Moore preaches to the choir. Documentaries should speak to all people.

(JA) Has there been any flack by liberals that Planet Green Game is run by Starbucks, a corporation?

(AW) Starbucks is a pretty admired brand and does a lot of good things. Try to be approachable and authentic.

(JA) Can the media be too manipulative of content? Is it inappropriate?

(MC) If it’s too earnest, people won’t want to read it. Have to find a news way to approach engaging readers.

(RS) Honesty is important. The other side feeds on deception. Environmentalists should hold a stance of honesty without distorting the picture. If the public understands the impact, they can make better decisions.

(MC) Show people how they can be affected and offer them a solution.

(JA) Can you go back to just shooting pretty pictures underwater?

(RS) No. More facts came out while making the movie. Conservation has to become cool. There’s nothing cooler than make the Earth a better place to live in. Connection with the natural world is essential for our survival.

(JA) Who can advertise in Good Magazine?

(MC) Anyone. Some advertisers who advertise on the magazine do so because of corporate responsibility. For example, if Exxon wanted to advertised, it means someone there feels it’s important. You can’t demonize companies for their past. Allow businesses to change and evolve.

(JA) Did you seek out assistance from individuals or organizations that were more in the know than you while making your films?

(IB) Read newspaper articles and books. Spoke with the authors. Talked with Beyond Pesticides, a lobby group. Didn’t seek funding from these sources, just information.

(RS) Teamed with conservation groups that gave him access to footage and research.

Audience Q&A

Q: How do you connect environmental issues to your audience? How are you getting your message out through grassroots?

(RS)The impetus of the movie is to make people care so much about protecting sharks. The audience will want to affect change. Give out cards to people to make responsible seafood choices.

(AW) Similar approach. There are a lot of people who don’t know about global warming and climate change. Trying to reach the critical mass to make both small and large changes.

(MC) Change people’s mindsets by getting them to a place to seek out solutions to make changes.

(IB) Our lifestyle is not sustainable. We’ll have to make compromises.

Q: Because you’re messengers, where are you going to go now? How will you become more visible? [Asked by Josh Dorfman, host of The Lazy Environmentalist on Sirius Satellite Radio.]

(RS) Hit young people. Devised a reality TV series about 15 young conservationists and biologists on a boat. Has sex and skin to suck people in, but hammers the audience about conservation.

(IB) Negotiating with the Sundance Channel’s “The Green” to show Gimme Green. Next documentary will be about the life cycle of a computer from being built in Third World countries and how the finished product is used.

(MC) Putting out more magazines. Company also produced some films: Son of Rambow that premiered at Sundance and The Power of the Game that premiers at Tribeca.

Q: What is Starbucks doing about fair trade coffee buying?

(AW) Not the best person to articulate this. Starbucks is the largest buyer of fair trade coffee. Buys coffee sustainable and responsibly.

Q: How can we affect or address change across cultural boundaries?

(RS) Difficult. Most people in China who eat shark fin soup, don’t know that it comes from sharks. Cultures have evolved in the past out of necessity. With enough pressure and education, things will change. Shark Water will be release in Asia. No celebrities are serving shark fin at weddings anymore. There’s a big initiative there. Jackie Chan is on the cause. Trying to get someone from every major territory.



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