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?

El Presidente.

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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?

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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?

Yes.

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?

Mac.

If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?

Plant trees.

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.

What was your favorite film from last year’s festival? What was it about? Do you have any idea what to expect this year? Any likely faves?     — Brenda Jenson, Milwaukee, Wis.

Well, there were so many good ones last year. There was a documentary on pesticides that affected children down in Mexico called Playing with Poison — I also saw it at another viewing in Seattle at 911 Media. It showed the startling effects of pesticides on human beings. I think anyone who saw this would be really concerned. There was another one on fuel cells that was exciting. I have been interested in alternative energy for a long time, so any word about where that is going gets me jazzed up. I actually don’t work with the program committee so I haven’t seen any of this year’s films yet. I know of a couple made by local filmmakers that I’m going to see. Other than that I like to go in and enjoy the festival like everyone else.

The film festival sounds like it could be fun, but I live in Idaho. Could you give me a brief rundown on what the films are like? Are most documentaries? Are some fiction? Are most outdoor adventure epics? Where are most of the films submitted made — U.S.? The Northwest? Europe? Asia? And lastly, if I can’t make it to Washington, are the films showing anywhere else?     — Nikki Mecidi, Boise, Idaho

Hey Nikki, I grew up in Boise. Idaho is a great state. Not exactly the hub of enlightened thinking, but some really good people live there, including my parents and sister.

Many of the films are documentaries. There are usually some humorous shorts that lighten the somewhat somber mood. We also provide some films on the natural beauty of the world. Most of the films are from the U.S., although we have people from several other countries as well. I actually don’t know where most of our films come from in the U.S. I’ll have to ask.

I don’t actually know of any films being shown in Idaho. But if you are interested, why don’t you contact Hazel Wolf and we can help you set up a community film festival in the Gem Stone state.

Is it too late to submit a film for the upcoming festival?     — Larry Reisinger, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Sorry, Larry. You can submit it for next year.

Since you are in the media business, why not develop movies or presentations that could be used in the classroom — and maybe more importantly, at teacher conferences? You could then be instrumental in getting to educators and students.     — Jerry Broadbent, Bucoda, Wash.

Jerry, this is a good idea. We would like to get more of these films into classrooms. I don’t think you would need to change a lot of the films — many of them are produced as educational tools. Hazel Wolf does offer a youth program, which is helping to get young people involved in making films and incorporating these films into the classroom. I really like the idea of students taking charge of their own community environmental issues by making films about them. I have seen students do this as a result of the youth program. Not only do they gain a better sense of the environment and the use of media, but it creates a new level of confidence that will be valuable for the rest of their lives.

In reference to the constantly shifting attention of major media that you mentioned, what do you think is (or should be) the role of independent media in keeping attention focused on issues? And do you think alternative media has been doing a good job of doing whatever you believe their job is? Additionally — this is the last question I swear — do you think that environmental films (i.e., documentaries, etc.) are a part of the alternative media and do they tend to focus peoples’ attention more than the manic corporate news coverage of issues?     — Nikos Hollis, Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Nikos (great name by the way), the first issue is to define alternative media. I’m sure everyone has a variation on this, but mine revolves around commerce. My issue with the mainstream media is that they aren’t attempting to educate the public, but instead are focused on selling the public more stuff. Alternative media or independent media is focused on getting some idea or message out to the public that they believe will better the world. To me that is one of the most important distinctions — not the only one, of course.

The role of independent media is to counter the dominant paradigm that the mainstream media is trying to instill in the world. You can imagine this with regard to a number of different issues. For example, the myth of the American dream — the role of independent media is to counter this by pointing out that the dream is not a reality for a huge portion of this society and is not a sustainable dream for the world. This can be done in a variety of ways, by showing the degree of poverty in our society or showing how unhealthily people are actually living.

Sarasota County, Fla., is a progressive community. We take environmental stewardship seriously and have done a lot in recent years to minimize our environmental impact. We have a tremendous amount to do; however, the leadership and political will seems to be in place.

We also host a film festival here. Obviously hosting a film festival brings in local economic development; hosting one with the topic of environmental stewardship serves a dual purpose in that it is educational.

I am looking for creative and thought-provoking ways to attract and engage people in this conversation in an effort to breed long-term behavior change.     — Jodi John, Manager, Sustainable Sarasota, Sarasota, Fla.

Jodi, I’m impressed. You are doing some wonderful and important things. Answering your question about “ways to attract and engage people … in an effort to breed long-term behavior” is a difficult one. Attracting people to attend a film festival is hard enough.

In a general sense, you are getting into the psychology of activism. How do we create a culture of activism? I have thought about this a bit in my life by first thinking about what motivates me. Why have I become active? That may be the first question you ask yourself.

The other point I would make is that the term activism needs to be expanded. I think that we have a very confined way of looking at the word. When I say the word activism or activist, many people have images of young angry folks with posters marching, yelling, and screaming. I think this is only one form of activism. The term (and maybe we need another term) could be used more inclusively, allowing more people who want to get involved (but are not really into yelling) to feel empowered by the things that they do. In some ways I think we need to get out of the mindset that all activism is anti-Vietnam-style activism. And while we are at it, could someone please write some new anti-war songs? If I hear “Masters of War” at the next Iraqi war protest, I’m going to lose my lunch.

I was just wondering, what do you think the environmental health movement can do for conventional Western medicine? You talked about personalizing environmentalism through stressing environmental health, but do you think this works or could work in mainstream medicine? Or is the burden of proof too high for modern medicine, which relies on study after study to prove causes of ill health?     — Matt Verstraete, Tampa, Fla.

Matt, I’m not sure what you mean exactly. When I talk about the environmental health movement, I’m talking about Western medicine. Hospitals, our supposed beacons of health, are one of the major polluters in urban areas. They dump huge amounts of toxic materials in local landfills and in some communities they actually burn their waste. This is the kind of insanity that we have created. Our centers for health are creating disease.

As for the burden of proof issue — that’s a problem all to itself. We in the Western world have created analysis paralysis. Even though we know that lots of people who smoke get lung cancer, the tobacco industry can still claim that smoking isn’t actually the cause. They can point to inconclusive research. Once again, this is madness and not related to common sense. We need more common sense and wisdom and less analysis.

So, being El Presidente of an environmental film organization, you seem uniquely positioned to answer my wide-ranging question: What do you think is the role of art in environmentalism?     — Kim Gyre, Savannah, Ga.

I really like your question, Kim. I’m not sure I’m the one to answer it, but I’ll give it a shot. Art, which I define as the manifestation of cultural values and mythologies, has an important role to play, one that is not sufficiently emphasized by the environmental movement. I think that art can provide a great space to question the way the world works and possibly provide alternative ideas. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but lately I have seen an increase in the amount of garbage art. I’m not sure if that is my own deal or if there is actually a growing desire in the art community to draw attention to our throw-away society. I was down at Burning Man last summer and the artistic community there is really tuned into building art that is shifting the paradigm of the dominant culture. I enjoy Burning Man because the art is being made only for the participants. At the end of the festival it is usually burned or taken apart. There is a freedom one feels when the purpose is not to sell the art.

You’re working with a great independent film project — what role do you think independent media can play in supporting activism? What opportunities do you see for different independent media folks, across media (film, radio, print, web) to work together and/or support each other?     — Susan Gleason, Seattle, Wash.

Well, Susan, this is a timely question. One way indy media can support activism is by telling stories about what’s happening at the grassroots level. The mainstream media rarely reports on these types of issues because they don’t have the necessary sex appeal or star quality. Working day after day, it is important for people to know about others in the trenches protecting forests, fighting for indigenous land rights, stopping the slaughter of wolves in Alaska, and on and on. I think this gives people a sense that things can change and it breaks through the pervasive cynicism that is gripping our culture right now. I know that when I read about something happening in the world that is starting to turn for the better, I feel a renewed sense of hope. Right now we need more hope and less fear.

First, what would you say to “skeptical environmentalists” out there like Bjorn Lomborg, who is holding a Copenhagen Consensus in May around his claim that the world will have to choose between problems like ending hunger and tackling climate change because it cannot solve them all at once? Second, if you could take Lomborg on (or any annoying “skeptic” for that matter), what method of combat would you choose (and how would you annihilate them — OK, this part may be for mature audiences only)?     — Mitzi Borromeo, Lausanne, Switzerland

I haven’t actually read Lomborg’s book, but I have a sense of the thesis. I guess I would tell him that his role as a statistician is important. But the real issue is not one of numbers and scenarios but people’s relationship to the spirit of our planet. I would ask him to take a trip with me out to the Cascades on one of those gorgeous sunny Western Washington days and see the landscape. We could walk around some of the thousands of alpine lakes and maybe even go for a dip in the fresh clean water. And then I would ask if he is still willing to give all this up.

Mitzi, I don’t feel annihilation is the right way to go about it. Lomborg has a perspective that is important. It may be wrong in a number of ways, but it is still important. Instead of annihilation, I would choose understanding. What is Lomborg’s motivation for writing his book? What is his history with the natural world? Why is he so certain of his views? I personally don’t want to create an environmental movement that is focused on destroying some sort of corporate industrial elite to save the planet. The environmental movement has to include everyone — even those who really get our blood boiling. The best way to include everyone is to begin by listening and being open to their experience. Annihilation only leads to more disconnection. We need to start finding ways to come together rather then separating ourselves from each other. I know this is hard in the current cultural climate. It is much easier to want to annihilate people. But in the long run we don’t get anywhere.

What action steps do you recommend environmentalists and all lovers of progressive civil society take on this spring, summer, and fall to get Bush out of office? What are your plans to contribute to this effort?

Thank you for all your wonderful work on the festival and for your clarifying perspectives on global warming and environmental education!     — Pam Emerson, Seattle, Wash.

Very timely question, Pam. I think one of the biggest opportunities of this election is to pull some people out of their apathetic stupor. Anyone who says voting doesn’t matter can be shown the evidence of the 2000 election and see that Bush only won Florida by 500 votes. There are a number of voter-registration drives going on in the 17 key battle states and I would suggest getting involved in those. One group is America Coming Together. I don’t know what you do, but if you work for a nonprofit I would recommend checking out a meeting in Seattle next Thursday that details how nonprofs can legally get the word out about the next election:

Thursday, March 18, 6 p.m.
Garfield Community Center
2323 East Cherry St.
Seattle, WA

I personally plan to have a voter-registration place at the festival and use some of my time this summer for registering voters.

Who or what has had the greatest influence on your environmental views and opinions?     — Gloria Coronado, Seattle, Wash.

For some reason this has been the stumper of all the questions, Gloria. There are so many things that have really influenced me over the years. I guess it really has been my personal spiritual journey that has led me to much of my concern over the plight of our planet. I think that is a little backwards because I think a lot of people come to a more spiritual place as a result of their connection to the natural world. I have come to the natural world as a result of my spiritual quest. But ultimately my own sense of myself and the unity of my body, mind, and soul have led me to rethink how I look at the world itself. It has helped me to see the deep interconnections that exist all around us. Humans are so separated from “nature” in this current time, by their own choosing. I don’t really feel this separation like I used to. Now I see the way it is all interconnected and so damn beautiful.