November 18th, 2014
I went to a screening of the new Reese Witherspoon movie, “Wild,” for which she was both producer and lead actor. It’s a really “lovely” film which I enjoyed — Thumbs Up! But … in the end, she needed the help of famed geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky. Had he read her script he would have called it “a pile of sundry facts, some of which are interesting and even curious, but ultimately fails to paint a meaningful picture.” Bottom line, it’s a solid film, but still just an, “and, and, and” presentation.
WILD SCREENING. After a special Writers Guild screening of “Wild,” actor/producer Reese Witherspoon (second from left) and actor Laura Dern (far right) joined the panel discussion to talk about the movie. A good movie, but the basic story was, “I got divorced, and then my mother died, and then I went on a hike, and then I encountered a fox, and then I ran out of water, and then I got a ride with a scary man, and then …”
WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO SAY HERE?
I don’t think geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky had any aspirations of giving Hollywood knowledge they could use, nor do I think Hollywood is ever likely to listen to the words of a geneticist when it comes to narrative structure, but they should. In my upcoming book I will formally present what I have come to call The Dobzhansky Template. It’s a simple sentence, derived from his famous evolution quote, in which you fill in the blanks. Here’s the sentence:
“Nothing in _______ makes sense except in the light of _______ .”
It’s a shame Reese Witherspoon couldn’t have sat down with the template before making her new movie, “Wild.” The movie is beautifully shot and she is of course as endlessly watchable as she was in 1991 in her wonderful debut movie, “The Man in the Moon.” But in the end, the story doesn’t really say much.
It’s based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. In the Q&A Reese told about how Cheryl, living in Oregon, sent her a copy of the book six months before publication. Reese said she read it in 48 hours and knew she wanted to make the movie version of it.
It’s a nice movie — a bit of “Into the Wild,” a bit of “Eat, Pray, Love” as well as even, “Shirley Valentine” — basically another story of the great things that can happen when you go walkabout. But what it lacks is a deeper theme, which it could have had. And that’s where the Dobzhansky template comes in.
All you have to do is look at one of the greatest American movies ever made, “Ordinary People” which won four Oscars in 1980 including Best Picture. The Dobzhansky Template would be: Nothing in that family’s existence made sense except in the light of the death of their son. There’s your clear, simple narrative that wins you Oscars and creates enduring stories.
November 10th, 2014
The climate movement is a communications train wreck. It’s been 7 years since Pat Michaels made fun of the, “We’ve only got 10 years left” line from climate worriers in my movie “Sizzle.” Now the head of the UN comes out with “We’ve only got 30 years left.” I’m sorry, you can’t do that sort of “making it up as we go along” nonsense and expect the public to trust you.
“WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING IN TEN YEARS — THEY’VE BEEN SAYING THAT FOR TWO YEARS — WHY DON’T THEY AT LEAST SUBTRACT TWO AND MAKE IT EIGHT?” This is the kind of clever critique that makes you want to be a climate skeptic (not really).
I am forever quoting Daniel Kahneman’s line about how the public needs a voice that is “trusted and liked,” otherwise all your evidence is worthless. Here’s a case study in “not building trust.”
Now the head of the U.N. offers up his own 30 year urgency deadline. To which I’m sure nobody cares because there just isn’t any sort of careful strategic messaging associated with the climate movement. It’s just endless “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.”
The problem is, we have to do something about this in ten years. We only have ten years to act on climate communication.
November 7th, 2014
800 unraised hands, all in response to the question I opened my keynote with at the Agronomy/Crop Science/Soil Science meeting. Only one fellow raised his hand and guess who he was — the author of a book on science writing. Science is a narrative profession that is narratively oblivious. I know this in part because I spent twenty years as a scientist and knew zippo about narrative. Which means if I’d been in this audience, I wouldn’t have raised my hand either.
SO WHAT IF WE DON’T KNOW THE ACRONYM, WHO CARES?
This will be one of the opening vignettes of my new book next year on narrative in the science world. On Wednesday afternoon I gave the closing keynote address to the meeting of the societies for Agronomy, Crop Science and Soil Science at the Long Beach Convention Center. The meeting had 4200 scientists and students in attendance. They estimated 800 or so stuck around for my talk which ended the week.
In the first moment of my talk I asked the audience to raise their hand if they were certain they knew the meaning of a certain acronym. I advanced the slides. On the screen was the acronym IMRAD. I scanned the ballroom and even took the above photo for the historical record, proving that no hands went up.
But then finally everyone to my left was pointing to one lone individual. That fellow turned out to be Josh Schimel, author of the popular and excellent book on writing scientific research papers, Writing Science Papers: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded.
And there you have it — the exception which proves the rule.
SCIENTISTS ARE NOT TAUGHT NARRATIVE, WHICH IS A PROBLEM
In case you didn’t know — and I personally absolutely did NOT know until 6 months ago — IMRAD stands for the structural elements of just about every scientific research paper you read — Introduction, Methods, Results And Discussion.
So now you know. And you’re maybe saying, “hunh, okay, that’s interesting,” and thinking that’s it. But I’m here to tell you it shows something — the fact that out of 800 scientists only one knew this. And you can add to that sample size the 200 doctors, scientists and students at Johns Hopkins Medical School a month ago when I did the same exercise. Nobody in that crowd raised their hand.
And yet, there is an entire sub-discpline of folks who study the IMRAD. Try searching it on Google — you’ll get hundreds of pages of websites talking about it.
What this little experiment reflects is the idea that the narrative template that is at the core of how scientists communicate is not even taught in any formal way. There is no one pointing out to students from the first day of their science courses that this is an entire discipline that is built upon narrative dynamics. Science is a narrative profession, both in the doing and the communicating, yet there is very, very little awareness or thought given to it. This is the subject of my book that will come out next year — the identification of this as a serious problem in science, and my recommendations on how to address it.
November 4th, 2014
Wednesday evening in Long Beach I will be giving the closing keynote at the 2014 meeting of the three organizations of Agronomy, Crop Science and Soil Science. I will also be running a workshop on Sunday plus screening “Sizzle” on Tuesday night which is always fun.
CABIN FEVER CURED
October 27th, 2014
The evolutionist/creationist debate dynamic seems to be a fairly universal thing. Last night I attended the public debate of Measure R for the City of Malibu. The legislation has been spearheaded by actor/director Rob Reiner. He was challenged by long time Malibu developer and good guy Steve Soboroff. The event was pretty much of a sad train wreck as the honest, decent and humble Soboroff tried to go toe-to-toe with the freewheeling comic actor and made a pretty big mess of it. Reiner used humor, fire and brimstone to play to a crowd of sycophantic hyenas while Soboroff flailed awkwardly. The whole thing was a disgrace.
WHEN STEVE MET ROB. For the same reason you don’t want to debate a creationist, you also don’t want to “debate” Rob Reiner (on the right). Businessman Steve Soboroff (left) tried and got his arse handed to him.
THE TRUTH FLAMES OUT
It was a sad evening for the City of Malibu. What should have been an informative and enlightening debate on a complex set of issues turned into a clown show between a comedian and a flustered businessman. The whole thing felt like it was straight out of the debates between evolutionists and creationists, as well as climate scientists versus climate skeptics.
In a nutshell, Rob Reiner, who has had a beach house in Malibu for 20 years, decided to lead the charge to “protect the city” from rampant development (even though there isn’t any — in the past 22 years the population has grown from 12,000 to 13,000 and a grand total of two buildings have been added). He raised $400,000, brought in a team from San Francisco and launched Measure R which will be voted on in another week.
The problem, according to the opponents of Measure R, is that he circumvented the system and now has a piece of legislation that if passed will cause all sorts of problems for the city including law suits and the loss of some key resources such as the local Urgent Care facility and movie theater.
There’s tons of details you don’t want to know, but the main point is I was seated among the 4 City Council Members who kept shaking their head no to most of the “facts” Rob Reiner cited (like a creationist citing evolution “facts” in debating an evolutionist). Which would have been fine — if only Soboroff would have just played the humble scientist, laying out the information, letting Reiner go on the record with all his mistakes. But that’s not what happened.
TAKING THE BAIT
Sadly, Soboroff tried to match Reiner for showmanship. It was a bad decision. As his humor missed and he failed to land zingers, he eventually dove in with the ad hominem attacks — accusing Reiner of making “back room deals” for which he didn’t have the specifics, implying he was on the take with wealthy developers and trying to occasionally be funny but not managing anything to compare with the actor once known as Meathead. He also tried a few lame references to Rob’s father, Carl Reiner, and “When Harry Met Sally,” that clanked. By the end he was totally in flames.
But at the same time, Reiner’s behavior was disgraceful — eventually shouting repeatedly and LOUDLY and angrily at Soboroff. Reiner played to his side of the room who behaved like a pack of Tea Party morons, refusing to obey the rules of keeping quiet.
It was pretty much an amateur presentation of, “Inherit the Wind,” with Reiner being the William Jennings Bryan buffoon playing to the rabble and Soboroff being a smart but clumsy, less charismatic version of Clarence Darrow.
Overall, it was sad to see the truth get so completely outgunned by theatrics, but that’s definitely what happened. And this is why Genie Scott, when she was head of the National Center for Science Education advised evolutionists to simply not debate creationists. It’s a no-win situation, as it was for Soboroff. Everyone I spoke with felt Rob Reiner “won” the debate. What a mess.
October 8th, 2014
I’ve been consumed with the writing of my new book, but on Friday night I did catch the heated “debate” between Bill Maher and Sam Harris versus Ben Affleck and (somewhat) Nicolas Kristof. Aside from being such a huge fan of Kristof that I would automatically take whatever side of an issue he does, I found myself stirred by Ben Affleck’s somewhat reckless and crude but deeply impassioned defense of the idea of respecting people’s religious beliefs, even if some criminals have tried to co-opt a religion. It’s been almost a decade since I made “Flock of Dodos” and found myself involved in a lot of those discussions. I was thankful for the things he was saying. And thankful that despite being an actor and not one hundred percent articulate, you could hear Kristof backing him up repeatedly. They were a good combination — the style backed up by the substance.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR FOR SAM HARRIS? His quote that Islam is “the motherlode of bad ideas,” didn’t sit well with a lot of people. He might not have wanted to blurt that out on national TV.
STYLE AND SUBSTANCE CONFRONT ANGER
I’m busy writing. The deadline for the first draft of my new book, “Houston, We Have A Narrative” for University of Chicago Press is next week. Plus I’ll be at John Hopkins University School of Medicine next week speaking and running workshops. Which is why I’ve posted nothing on the Benshi for the past month. But watching the Bill Maher-Ben Affleck “debate” resurrected some old thoughts.
There’s really nothing I could say that could be any better or more articulate than what H.A. Goodman said in detail on the Huffington Post (it was refreshing to see someone on that site take on Bill Maher).
I’m generally a fan of Bill Maher and his show, but that said, he spends a lot of time blindly hating all things conservative, Republican and right wing, but then occasionally tossing out a comment about how terrible it is that our society is so polarized these days. The yin is connected to the yang. You really don’t get to spew hatred then be surprised you’re not making the world a better place.
I think that was the basic dynamic on Friday night when Ben Affleck finally had to be the one to call him out. The Sam Harris line about the motherlode, as Affleck tried to get in, was just such a broad brush comment. And said with such smug certainty.
Human existence isn’t that simple. And that’s what H.A. Goodman explains nicely. It was a good “debate.” And also Howard Fineman, on MSNBC’s Hardball, did a great job of understanding the importance of it. Eugene Robinson tried to dismiss it as a bunch of silliness among white guys with no background in the issue, but Fineman rightfully pointed out it was a heated debate on a show with large viewership.
If you understand the media, you understand that is the definition of an important event. Doesn’t matter how ill-informed the argumentation is — it was widely watched and reflective of a million ill-informed debates throughout America at the moment.
It’s difficult to stand up to hatred, but that’s what Ben Affleck was doing. Somebody had to.
September 8th, 2014
Talking on Friday at USC’s Children’s Hospital. I shall do my best to be a “communicator extraordinaire.”
September 4th, 2014
I’m a long time fan of Ocean Champions as I said in this post on Andy Revkin’s NY Times blog Dot Earth a couple days ago. It’s the vision thing. Dave Wilmot and Jack Sterne had a clear vision more than a decade ago which they have stuck to and created a very effective political voice for the oceans. They are true icons of environmental leadership.
CHAMPIONS OF THE OCEANS. In 2009 I did this 90 second video for Ocean Champions. They understand how the American political system works.
THE LONG VIEW
I met Dave Wilmot and Jack Sterne in 2003 when they were first formulating their Ocean Champions project. They had conducted a Packard-funded study asking the simple, blunt question of why the ocean conservation movement was accomplishing so little. Their conclusion was it lacked a real-world perspective on the American political system.
Out of that study they crafted a clear vision of what they felt was needed which is not another non-profit conservation group for the oceans, but rather a very different beast — a political action committee (PAC) for the oceans. They laid out their vision, they built it, and they now have a great deal of accomplishments to point to as a result. I’m such a fan of what they do that I convinced Andy Revkin to let me do a post on his blog.
And the most impressive thing they have going now is simply longevity. This is a huge attribute on Capital Hill. The vast majority of people working with environmental groups stay with an organization for a couple or a few years, then move on. Dave has been hard at it for a long time and now has the sort of relationships that translate into effectiveness.
I saw the results in 2009 when I shot a video for them. We walked into the offices of one member of Congress after another. The first thing I heard from everyone in the office, including the member of Congress, was, “Hey, Dave!”
It’s called relationships. That’s how real politics works. It takes time, but there is an increasingly large payoff as the relationships grow.
I can’t say enough good things about Ocean Champions. They are a model for how to make things work in the real world of American politics.
August 12th, 2014
Whether he ever knew of Joseph Campbell‘s work or not, when James Watson wrote “The Double Helix,” he was as tapped in to the template of the Hero’s Journey as George Lucas when he created “Star Wars.” In this guest essay, my Benshi editor of the past year, Steph Yin, breaks down “The Double Helix,” using both the Logline Maker of our Connection Storymaker app, as well as the Story Cycle found in books like “Winning the Story Wars.” I read “The Double Helix” as an undergraduate, a long time ago, yet it still sticks with me. There’s a reason for that, as Steph demonstrates here.
THE DOUBLE HELIX. This classic tale of scientific discovery, like so many other timeless stories, fits snugly into the Hero’s Journey.
THE MOLECULAR BIOLOGIST’S JOURNEY
Steph Yin graduated from Brown University last year and has been working part-time with me since then, running the Benshi and helping with my social media efforts. She’s a superstar who is headed to NYU in a couple weeks to begin working on her master’s degree in science journalism with this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner Dan Fagin. In January she helped me run the version of our Connection Storymaker Workshop at the SICB meeting in Austin, which gave us a chance to have in-depth conversations about the elements in our Connection Storymaker app.
Out of those chats came the realization that James Watson’s “The Double Helix” is a classic tale of a singular protagonist on a journey in search of a golden chalice in which he overcomes many obstacles to eventually succeed. More importantly, it’s one of the best-told stories from the world of science ever. We both wondered how closely Watson’s tale matches the template of the Hero’s Journey as originally described by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 foundational work, “Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Turns out it’s amazingly close, in addition to embodying a number of other great aspects of effective broad communication. The following is Steph’s analysis of “The Double Helix” from this perspective.
COMPARISON: THE ABT VS. THE LOGLINE MAKER
When Randy suggested that I read “The Double Helix” and investigate his suspicion that the story fit the classic Hero’s Journey model, I took it as an opportunity to grow two flowers with one seed. I had been meaning to read “The Double Helix” for ages, and had also just successfully used the logline maker in a serious way for the first time.
Though I had been working with Randy for nearly half a year, I could never fully appreciate the logline maker; some part of it always felt a bit contrived. After this recent success, I was hungry to apply the Hero’s Journey in different ways and flesh out my understanding of its potential.
Up until that point, the Storymaker’s logline template, based on the Hero’s Journey, had met with varying levels of success in Randy’s Connection Storymaker Workshops. While people intuitively grasped the “ABT” (and, but, therefore) storytelling template, they had a little more trouble trusting the Hero’s Journey template.
Randy believed this happened in part because once people generally settled on the story they wanted to tell, they were reluctant to modify it. While most stories by nature fit the ABT model easily, the Hero’s Journey takes a little more finagling. So when asked to use it as a template, people tend to find the exercise stifling and a bit forced.
The ABT is a practical and versatile tool. It can tell the story of an environmental hero who saves a watershed, explain how subatomic particles collide, or interpret a Mars rover discovery. The logline is much more human-centric—using more theatrical terms like “protagonist” and “ordinary world.” As a result it can seem not just distant, but downright flaky, even, to research scientists. Randy and I decided that for scientists to grasp the potential relevance of the logline, we needed a strong example of how a story of scientific research could fit within its framework (cue “The Double Helix!”).
BREAKING DOWN “THE DOUBLE HELIX”
Reading “The Double Helix,” I was struck by the candid nature of Watson’s writing. He became immediately familiar to me, and this, in turn, made reading the book much more enjoyable—as if I were reading letters from a friend. Watson has all the trappings of a flawed protagonist: he is young, foolhardy, searching for fast shortcuts to fame and seduced by the world of the educated, European socialites around him. His flaws set him up to undergo the Hero’s Journey.
Below is a summary of this journey, using the language of the Connection Storymaker logline:
In an ordinary world, a flawed protagonist: In an ordinary world, James Watson is a young scientist at the University of Chicago, primarily interested in studying birds, impatient for fame and looking for career shortcuts (in particular, avoiding taking any advanced chemistry, physics or math courses).
Feeling unfulfilled by ornithology, he becomes curious about how genes work. He starts grad school at Indiana University, advised by microbiologist Salvador Luria. At this point, he is interested in studying DNA but still hoping to avoid learning any deep chemistry.
A catalytic event happens: He gets his life upended when, in the spring of 1951, he goes to a conference in Naples and hears a talk on X-ray diffraction of DNA by Maurice Wilkins, a physicist and molecular biologist at King’s College. Around the same time, Watson realizes that these conferences were as much a gateway into a fashionable social scene as they were an entry into academia. He writes, “an important truth was slowly entering my head: a scientist’s life might be interesting socially as well as intellectually.”
After taking stock, the hero commits to action: After taking stock, Watson becomes determined to learn chemistry and solve the structure of DNA. He decides to go to the University of Cambridge to learn X-ray crystallography. There, he meets and bonds with Francis Crick, who is also interested in DNA. Watson writes, “From my first day in the lab I knew I would not leave Cambridge for a long time. Departing would be idiocy, for I had immediately discovered the fun of talking to Francis Crick. Finding someone in Max [Perutz]’s lab who knew that DNA was more important than proteins was real luck… Our lunch conversations quickly centered on how genes were put together.”
Together, Watson and Crick commit to finding the structure of DNA using a combination of X-ray photography and model building, a method that had recently been used by the biochemist Linus Pauling to understand the structure of proteins.“Within a few days after my arrival, we knew what to do: imitate Linus Pauling and beat him at his own game,” writes Watson. “Now, with me around the lab always wanting to talk about genes, Francis no longer kept his thoughts about DNA in a back recess of his brain… No one should mind if, by spending only a few hours a week thinking about DNA, he helped me solve a smashingly important problem.”
The stakes get raised: After a while, Watson and Crick think they have stumbled across a breakthrough. They believe DNA is a three-chain helix with phosphate groups held together by Mg2+ ions. However, when Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin (who were studying DNA at the same time) visit Cambridge at Watson and Crick’s request, they quickly find holes in this three-chain theory. Their idea thoroughly shot down, Watson and Crick are discredited, and their superiors order them to stop spending their time on DNA. “By this time neither of us really wanted to look at our model. All its glamor vanished, and the crudely improvised phosphorus atoms gave no hint that they would ever neatly fit into something of value,” writes Watson. “… the decision was thus passed on to Max that Francis and I must give up DNA.”
The hero must learn the lesson, to stop the antagonist and achieve the goal: In order to find the structure of DNA before his competitors (Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, Linus Pauling), Watson must learn to take his time, cultivate a deeper learning of chemistry and mathematics and resist his temptations to take shortcuts or rush to conclusions. For a while, Watson and Crick do their DNA research on the down-low while making progress on their primary research (Watson focused on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus).
During this time, Watson devotes a great amount of time to learning chemistry—combing through scholarly journals and seminal books on the topic. “I used the dark and chilly days to learn more theoretical chemistry or to leaf through journals, hoping that possibly there existed a forgotten clue to DNA,” he writes. “The book I poked open the most was Francis’ copy of ‘The Nature of the Chemical Bond.’ Increasingly often, when Francis needed to look up a crucial bond length, it would turn up on the quarter bench of lab space that John [Kendrew] had given to me for experimental work.” Watson hones his X-ray photography skills, thinks about DNA late into his evenings and continually checks with reference books and colleagues to make sure his chemistry is correct.
By the time he and Crick believe again that they have cracked DNA’s structure (which, of course, this time they had), they are vigilant about checking their assumptions and obtaining exact coordinates before spilling the news, having learned from their earlier fiasco with Wilkins and Franklin. “Keeping King’s in the dark made sense until exact coordinates had been obtained for all the atoms. It was all too easy to fudge a successful series of atomic contacts so that, while each looked almost acceptable, the whole collection was energetically impossible,” writes Watson. “…Thus the next several days were to be spent using a plumb line and a measuring stick to obtain the relative positions of all atoms in a single nucleotide.”
By the end of the book, Watson and Crick have successfully predicted the structure of DNA, and it seems Watson has matured both as a scientist (in his deeper grasp on chemistry and math, as well as in his patience and restraint) and person (who is perhaps no longer as taken with instant fame and the charms of the social elite).
He ends the book in Paris, on a trip with his sister. In the last sentences of “The Double Helix,” he writes, “… now I was alone, looking at the long-haired girls near St. Germain des Prés and knowing they were not for me. I was twenty-five and too old to be unusual.” On that note, our hero turned the page toward a new journey.
August 11th, 2014
First off, I don’t think that’s saying much. The vast majority of environmental documentaries tend to be devoid of story, humorless, preachy, or so preachy as to be dishonest. “Damnation” has a perspective that captures the past century of development in America, but not in a plodding didactic way. It doesn’t just mention Edward Abbey, it is infused with his spirit. It doesn’t just tell about what existed before the Glen Canyon Dam flooded an incredible archeological resource, it shows you through the footage and personal journey of three people that reaches into your heart. It doesn’t just speak of protest—it documents with moments of hilarity pranksters pulling incredible middle-of-the-night dam graffiti stunts. And it amazingly manages to create a voice that plays to both ends of the demographic spectrum – in touch with twenty-somethings with the rebellious pranks, but also playing to the oldest of nature lovers with its dignity. After viewing it a second time on Friday evening at our screening in Los Angeles hosted by the La Cretz Foundation of UCLA I’m even more impressed. I’m sure the odds on it getting an Oscar nomination are long, but I intend to lobby everyone I know in the documentary world. Yes, it is that good.
THE RIGHT WAY TO APPRECIATE NATURE. Katie Lee, star of “Damnation,” in 1957 paying homage in her own special way to a tremendous natural resource, before the Glen Canyon Dam desecrated it.
“ED WOULD SHIT HIS PANTS”
If there’s one character in “Damnation” who truly steals the show it’s nonagenarian Katie Lee. You get to see her naked on the Colorado River in the mid-1950′s, taking a rafting trip just before a major section was destroyed by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. Her opening line is her reply to the question of whether she’s ever met Floyd Dominy, who was Director of the Bureau of Reclamation in the 60′s and played a significant role in the Glen Canyon project. She replies no, but if she ever did she would, “cut his balls off.” She’s awesome.
In the post-screening panel discussion Matt Stoecker, producer and co-creator of the movie, said she was on a panel discussion for a screening this spring. When asked what Edward Abbey (whom she knew) would have thought of the film she said, “Ed would shit his pants.”
That’s how much spirit the movie has. It’s truly excellent.
Watching it on Friday night at our Los Angeles screening it made me realize the first time you watch a movie you are drawing impressions, trying to decide if you like it. If you do like a movie, then the second time through you get to admire it. Which is what I found myself doing on Friday night.
If I had to pick one word to describe the movie it would be, “dignified” (yes, despite Katie’s outlandishness). In a world where everyone involved in making issue-oriented movies is trying to pack them full of celebrities (and missing the mark by a mile as “Years of Living Dangerously” did so sadly this past spring) or over-blowing conflict and conspiracy (like a certain fracking film), or unwilling to delve into cultural forces behind destructive behavior (“The Cove” was fun but was an exercise in political correctness when it came to looking into the eyes of a culture that tolerates dolphin slaughter) this movie was simply honest, humble and accurate.
There was no vilification. They let “the bad guys” speak in their own voice, and even put them in a fairly understanding light — showing how they were mostly a product of their times. The country was young, the Depression and World War II did certain things to the psyche of the nation, and a pathway was pursued for the times. No one in the film appeared proud of having destroyed parts of nature. The environment just wasn’t in their thinking. It was an age when wetlands were called swamps and rainforests were jungles. I remember that era. It finally began to change when I was a kid in the 1960′s and the modern environmental movement emerged. For the most part the developers weren’t evil, just myopic.
TIME TO PUSH FOR AN OSCAR NOMINATION
Since making my movie, “Flock of Dodos,” in 2006 for which we never deluded ourselves into thinking about the Oscars I’ve had to witness all sorts of dishonest, massively hyped, deeply polarizing screeds and polemics receive Oscar nominations. “Jesus Camp” and “Gasland” are two that immediately come to mind. Even the Oscar winning “Bowling for Columbine,” wasn’t brilliant storytelling, only loud argumentation.
Surely the world hasn’t devolved to such a state that only the screaming liars receive recognition. This movie has convinced me it is still possible to create an engaging and popular environmental documentary that works (btw, they won the Audience Appreciation Award at South By Southwest Film Festival where they had their premiere). The world needs this film to get all the recognition possible so it can serve as a model in so many ways — not just for environmental filmmaking, but also in educating the world on this entire futuristic trend of dam removal.
We had a great final question in the Q&A on Friday from a young guy from China. He told about the reckless dam construction going on there, then asked if this movie will be shown in China. It needs to be. The Chinese need to see this aspect of the future — that dams are a thing of the past. They need to know that this country, that went dam crazy in the 50′s is no longer building ANY dams, and is instead hard at work removing them with great success.
Let’s all get to work in spreading the word and seeing if it can end up at the Oscars. I’ve never seen a more deserving documentary. Ever.