Notes on Some Wild & Scenic Film Festival Free Workshops

Yesterday we attended two of the many free workshops offered at the Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival.

While waiting outside the council chamber in the Nevada City Hall for the first workshop to begin, we checked out the various displays by environmental organizations. We also chatted with the good people of  Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release, where we picked up a flyer about their next training session in March.

Once inside, we chatted with Anna Haynes, who had just listened to the presentation by Colin Beavan (“No Impact Man”). Anna’s thoughts on that talk are here.

The first workshop we attended was “Get Your Film Out to the World,” a panel discussion by veterans of the independent and environmental documentary field, such as IndieGoGo. This session was sponsored and hosted by The Video Project.

The most interesting stories were about aspiring filmmakers who finally contracted with recognized distributors, only to find their films poorly targeted by those distributors to the wrong audience. The panel had lots of advice about how to promote environmental documentaries in novel and effective ways. Much of this advice centered on the Internet and social networking.  This workshop was of interest to us as documentary filmmaker wannabes.

The next workshop we attended was called “The Revolution for Local Control,” presented by Global Exchange. Several people spoke, including Shannon Biggs, Chad Nicholson and Kevin Danaher. The presentation included a short film about the struggle of Blaine Township in Western Pennsylvania  — working with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) — to prevent the Consol Energy Company from engaging in the landscape-ravaging practice of longwall mining.

The creator of the short Blaine documentary is Jeremy Kagan, the director of The Big Fix and The Journey of Natty Gann, among other successful films. I sent Kagan email last evening asking whether the Blaine documentary is available on the Internet, and he replied with an offer to send it to me. (Late update: After I wrote back again and suggested that he upload it to YouTube, he replied that he’d do that in the next 24 hours).

Here’s how longwall mining is described in Be The Change, a book about the work of CELDF:

“The procedure for longwall coal mining goes something like this: six to eight hundred feet below the earth’s surface, depending on the seam, a machine moves across the face of the coal, grinding it up at tremendous speed. After the machines come through and remove the coal, the earth drops three to six feet above the seam. This is called subsidence. The damage caused by subsidence has caused the practice of longwall mining to be banned in Germany — the country where it originated.”

Eventually, the Blaine town council passed two ordinances, one to ban longwall mining in their township, and another to strip corporations of the right to be considered persons in their township. In its Democracy School workshops, CELDF refers to this strategy as “rights-based” organizing.

This rights-based strategy is a slow-moving wildfire, threatening to reform our dysfunctional political system starting at the grass-roots. According to Shannon Biggs, there are now some 125 communities in the United States who have passed similar ordinances, essentially sending the message, “We decide.”

The stories coming out of these communities are thrilling and inspiring. If democracy has a chance in the United States, this is it.

The most entertaining speaker at this workshop was Kevin Danaher, who spoke of this movement toward democracy with phrases such as these:

“Our biggest enemy is the cult of powerlessness.”

“The Titanic of corporate power has run into the iceberg of unsustainability.”

“The lesson of Copenhagen is that the solution will not come from the top.”

“Cynicism is what passes for insight when courage is lacking”

“Organize!”

Another speaker, Chad Nicholson, talked about his work in Spokane on another rights-based initiative, Envision Spokane.

“Rights-based organizing.”

Get used to that phrase.

It’s the long wave of the future, and it will reach us here in Nevada County eventually.


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  1. […] Does this sound extreme? Watch this 10-minute movie (below) by Jeremy Kagan (director of The Big Fix and Natty Gann, among other successful films) and decide for yourself. This movie was shown at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival Workshop, “The Revolution for Local Control.” […]