MEET THE FILMMAKER
JAMES REDFORD, HAPPENING: A CLEAN ENERGY REVOLUTION
It’s been difficult to ignore the signs of global warming these past few months – between Hurricane Harvey slamming into Texas and the devastation in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, it seems like nowhere is safe. And while that’s true, there are still many positive steps being taken to counteract the changes in our climate.
James Redford’s most recent documentary, Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution, is one of them. This isn’t Redford’s first film, nor is it his first time screening at Mill Valley – he has attended the Mill Valley Film Festival with a film three times prior, most recently last year with California Typewriter, for which he was executive producer. But how does one transition from a film about typewriters to documentary exploring clean energy?
About three years ago, Redford said, he saw the documentary Chasing Ice, about melting glaciers around the globe. “What else do we need to explain to people?” he recalls thinking. “What else do we need to do, to get beyond feeling indifference and despair, and getting back on board to fix the situation?”
Renewable energy soon presented itself as a great topic to explore, both for its viability and accessibility, but also because it was a movement that was already underway. “The solution is here, and clean energy is inevitable,” Redford said. “The right thing will happen. The question is, what kind of world will we be living in when it does?”
So, like a true documentarian, Redford set off to explore and better understand what was happening in the clean energy world, and how it had already expanded into daily life. He didn’t have to travel far: residents of Marin County receive 50% clean energy through the local public utility, Marin Clean Energy. And converting to 100% clean energy is surprisingly easy and can cost as little as $5-10 a month. The only problem, Redford realized, was that people didn’t know their options.
“Only a tiny fraction of people know they can [go green],” he said. “A lot of it is education and awareness. In California you’re talking about one million people that aren’t on renewable [energy] that could be.”
His journey to explore clean energy took him across California and beyond, from deserts in Nevada to the outskirts of Buffalo, New York. The going wasn’t always easy. “I was struggling with hypocrisy,” he said, and he found it difficult to document carbon neutrality without attempting it himself. “I thought, why don’t I document my own journey? People would relate more if they could relate to somebody making sense of all this. Documenting my own journey was a way of trying to be a conduit for a general audience, to asK the dumb questions that people were afraid to ask.”
Happening documents Redford’s learning curve in real time. While filming he even decided to take the leap and turn the camera on his own home, exploring the ways in which his house could utilize more clean energy.
On a larger scale, Redford also found that the clean energy economy is growing at a staggering rate; there are more people working in renewable energy than Google and Apple combined. (Solar alone employs more people in the US than the oil, coal and gas industries combined.)
“The jobs don’t lie,” he said. “This isn’t exploratory, it isn’t something we have to do, it’s already happening.”
All good news – but how can we help keep the ball rolling?
“We can’t expect our current government to get us out of [global warming], but we don’t need them to,” Redford said. Happening follows grassroots activists across the country who made great strides – and faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles – to help their communities transition to clean energy. Organizing on a local level is a great way to spark change, and helping educate people not only about global warming, but also alerting them to the small changes they can make, will help in the long run.
Technological strides – such as creating more batteries to store the excess energy from solar and wind power – will help make clean energy even more available in years to come. (In some cases in California, he found, there was too much clean energy available and it had to be shipped out of state.)
Curious how you can play a part in joining the clean energy revolution? Run, don’t walk, to the upcoming screening of Happening at MVFF40. “The only real way to change people is emotionally,” Redford said. “The best information in the world, if it doesn’t have an emotional connection, will be hard to get people to change their ideas or the ways they do things. Film is uniquely well suited to that.”
Filmmaker James Redford will attend both screenings of Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution; Sat, Oct 7 at 12:00pm at Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, and Monday, Oct 9 at 1:15pm at the Sequoia in Mill Valley. He will participate in a Q&A with audience members following the screenings.