An eco-film booster answers questions
What organization are you affiliated with? What does it do?
I work with the Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Network. I have been on the board for three years now. Every year this organization puts on a film festival in Leavenworth, Wash. This year it is March 18-21. We are showing more than 50 films from around the world. Over the span of four days, people from all over get to come together to view films, eat, talk, and learn about how we can improve the environment from a multitude of perspectives. The best part of the festival is that it is located at the Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat Center. By the end of the weekend there is a sense of community among all of the participants. Because of the intimacy of Sleeping Lady, you have the opportunity to really meet people and learn about them. This is something you wouldn’t get from an urban film festival. We invite anyone who has a passion for the environment to attend. This year’s themes are Environmental Health, Wildlife, and Water.
What’s your job title?
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
I spend a few hours a week working for this organization. The day-to-day work is done by Caroline Cummings, HWEFN’s executive director.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
Well, my friend Sam Stegeman led me here, as he has to many other great adventures. At the time, Sam was directing the film festival, and he asked me to join the board. I agreed and have been on since. When John Degraff stepped down last May as board president, I was asked to take the position.
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
Too many …
With whom do you interact regularly as part of your job? What types of people? What other organizations or government agencies?
What is nice about Hazel Wolf is that it can have its foot in a lot of different issues. It is media with an environmental focus. However, we all know today that the term “environment” is becoming much broader. We can deal with environmental justice issues, anti-globalization issues, lots of social justice issues, labor issues. Media can be made about all of these. As Hazel Wolf says on the video that was made about the festival, “I think that in the end the environmental movement is going to move everybody. Because we all drink the same polluted air and drink the same polluted water. No matter if you’re a timber tycoon or not.”
Up ’til now, the organization has been supported mainly by independent filmmakers. We are trying to do a better job of outreaching to environmental organizations to help them see the value of environmental media and how it can help them in their activism. We also want to incorporate governmental organizations into the festival so they can learn about the issues and network with people who can participate in solutions.
Who’s the biggest pain in the ass you have to deal with?
I can’t say I have run into any real pains in the ass. I would say that it surprises me when HWEFN reaches out to corporations and they are worried that we may be too radical and reflect badly on them — especially Northwest corporations that would clearly benefit from what HWEFN is doing. Some of the films that are shown at the festival are nature films that promote the outdoor experience. Yet, we haven’t gotten a lot of support from companies around Seattle that make money off of this experience. Not sure why they are so reluctant to work with us.
Who’s nicer than you would expect?
That’s an easier question. I guess I’m mostly amazed by the shared sense of community that occurs at the Hazel Wolf Film Festival every year. It isn’t just a bunch of people watching films, but a small community of folks watching, networking, and dialoguing about things that matter to them. I think that’s one of the things that really grabs people’s attention. The festival itself is a really nice atmosphere. There isn’t any backhand dealing or anything. It is a group of people who come together over four days to make the world a better place.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Bozeman, Mont. I live in Seattle right now, in the Central District.
What do you consider your environmental coming-of-age moment?
Oh, there are so many. I guess I would say it was my reading of global warming science. It was at a turning point in my life when I really needed to decide what I was going to do. Once I read about this issue, I realized that no matter how we dealt with the other stuff (and don’t get me wrong — it is all good work), if we didn’t fix global warming we were going to have some cataclysmic breakdowns of our natural capital. It was then I chose to dedicate my time to environmental activism. I don’t work specifically on global warming, but I think HWEFN contributes to expanding the environmental movement.
What’s on your desk right now?
A copy of the Earth Charter. If you haven’t checked it out, please do.
What environmental offense has pissed you off the most?
What aggravates me is the way the media tends to jump from one issue to the next without any resolution. We see cutting-edge journalism about an environmental issue — for example, the work done by Duff Wilson in the book Fateful Harvest. People read about it, there is a public outcry, and then it all just goes away. What happened? The problem is still going on — nothing significant changed. I don’t believe that people are apathetic, but they are overloaded with so many problems they sometimes get stuck not knowing what to do. One reason I like Grist is that you guys connect people to activist websites. I just wish the mainstream media wasn’t so focused on the latest thing and actually did long-term reporting to see if some of the problems were actually resolved.
Who is your environmental hero?
Nobody really comes to mind. I just met with a guy who started the Whidbey Institute yesterday, Fritz Hull, and after talking to him for a few hours I would say he is a hero. He is attempting to create a context for religion and the environment to come together as one — something that has been a problem for many years and is one of the reasons the conservative elite can amass so many people who are Christian. Yet, Christianity isn’t the problem per se. It is people’s interpretation of Christianity that is the problem. We need to find ways to bridge the cultural divides that keep the environmental movement away from lots of people who should be allies. Somehow these people, living in cancer row down in Louisiana, think environmentalism is an affront to their religious belief system. Fritz is trying to find some of those bridges and I completely support that.
Who is your No. 1 environmental villain/nemesis?
Personally, I don’t like this question. I guess it is easy to start to see people as villains and bad guys. I don’t like that type of environmentalism. I think we in the environmental movement need to start thinking about ways in which everyone is a player in the solution. The new environmentalism (if I can be so bold as to use that terminology) is about bringing different interests together to find a solution that works for everyone. Loggers are not enemies, they are people who need jobs. How can everyone work together to find new jobs for them and also protect the forest? We need to stop thinking in either/or solutions. It isn’t about winning or losing, it is about building a global community where everyone shares in a healthy planet. I’m sure people will consider that naive, but I think it is the only way.
What’s your environmental vice?
I like to snowboard.
How do you get around?
Car when I have to go places at a far distance. But I also take the bus a lot and don’t shirk from a 35-minute walk.
What are you reading these days?
There are so many books and so little time. I’m reading the Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson, The Next Enlightenment by Walter Truett Anderson, the new issue of YES! magazine, The Marriage of Sense and Soul by Ken Wilbur, and Power Shift by Alvin Toffler.
What’s your favorite meal?
I have been trying a raw-foods diet lately — feels oh so good. So I’ll say a nice spinach salad. My bowels love me (I’m sure this is too much information).
Are you a news junkie? Where do you get your news?
I’m not a junkie. I have been reading a lot of political weblogs lately. Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, and a recent one about the Iraq War found on TomPaine.com. Otherwise I read The New York Times and Seattle Times reasonably regularly.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I’m kinky in bed?
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
I have to say right here, Cascadia. I mean, can you find a more amazing biosphere in the world? I love the Cascades and the Olympics — two places that on their own would be reason enough to live here. Yet we get two of the most gorgeous ecosystems around. I have to say as much as Seattle has room to improve, it is one of the most livable and beautiful cities I’ve ever been to. Cape Town, South Africa, is a close second.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
I would rearrange our public education system to include a significant amount of curriculum that connects people to the natural world. I think that in order for us to save the planet every human being must begin to redefine his or her relationship to this world. This can happen, but it is going to be a major haul.
When was the last time you wore tie-dye? How about fleece?
I’m more of a cotton guy. There isn’t anything better then putting on a cotton shirt. Tie-dye isn’t part of my experience. But I can appreciate those people cruising around with it today.
Do you compost?
Which presidential candidate are you backing in 2004?
Anybody but Bush.
Would you label yourself an environmentalist?
Yeah, I would say I’m an environmentalist. And I say it proudly. I do think that the environmental movement has made some mistakes in the past that have alienated a lot of people. Nonetheless, I don’t know of any social movement that has grown so fast and so broadly. I’m proud of the baggage. I hug trees and I do it with pride. Some people may want to portray me as a wacko and out of touch with what really matters, but that’s fine with me. I always want to be on the cutting edge of where the culture needs to go — not too far ahead, just enough on the edge where people are ready to start moving forward. When you sit in these places, the mainstream of our society is always going to be shooting you down and calling you names. All the folks from the counterculture said this was what was going to happen and it did. When you are out in front of the culture you have to expect people to criticize you. The answer is not to attack back but to meet people halfway and try to understand their issues. Once again, I’m sure that sounds naive, but I think it is the only answer to long-term change.
What’s one issue about which you disagree with other environmentalists?
I kind of felt like the attack on SUVs was a little gratuitous. Of course I am of the opinion that these beasts of inefficiency should be removed from our roads (due to safety hazards alone). I just don’t think that picking on people who have chosen this form of transportation (the guerilla bumper-sticker campaign) is a very effective form of activism. I don’t like activism that guilts people into changing their behavior. I don’t think it works in the long run.
What could the environmental movement be doing better or differently to attract new people?
I think the best way to connect to people is through the personal. Unfortunately, things like global warming or ozone depletion don’t totally make sense to people. These problems are too nebulous. The way to connect to people is through their day to day. That is where the environmental health movement comes in. Why should I care about the environment? Because if I don’t I’m going to have a much higher chance of getting cancer. The environmental health movement personalizes environmentalism. If we can begin to change the perception of cancer to something that is being caused by environmental toxins (there is a tremendous amount of evidence that this is the case), we can focus people on cleaning up their own backyards. This gives people an in to the movement and helps broaden it because these types of issues are hurting everyone. Who doesn’t know someone who has or has died of cancer?
What was your favorite band when you were 18? How about now?
I was into U2, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits. Today I have been rolling the latest Outkast, which is a strong effort for a two-album set.
What’s your favorite TV show?
I don’t watch TV.
Mac or PC?
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
What are you happy about right now?
I’m happy about my family, the great relationships I’ve established with friends, living in Seattle, and participating in one of the most interesting periods in human history.