Robert Stone spoke to KQED about his new documentary Earth Days, which tells the history of the rise of the environmental movement and how we awakened as a nation to the environmental crisis.
Was the idea for Earth Days influenced by the Civilian Conservation Corps film?
The idea for Earth Days actually came first. Civilian Conservation Corps was a natural film to follow it.
In tackling such a big subject, I knew that in order for it to work it needed to be grounded in personal narrative. But one mistake many filmmakers make is having too many interviews and losing the personal connection. I needed enough characters to do the story justice but not too many.
It is told through the stories of nine Americans who played pivotal roles in the movement. Two key figures in the film are Stuart Brand (editor of the Whole Earth catalog) and Stuart Udall, former secretary of the interior.
Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
Yes. Not an activist, but anyone who has spent any time researching this subject—I devoted two years of my life to it—can't not come away feeling it is the most important issue of our time.
Did making of the film leave you hopeful for the future of our environment? Is it a film of hope?
I think it is a hopeful film and a cautionary tale.
The film shows that dramatic change can take place and rapidly. Although the movement produced the most pro-environmental legislation signed in our country's history, in the late 1980s, it got caught in culture wars.
What had been a universally accepted principal became politically divisive. When Regan announced his candidacy for the presidency, he said that one thing he wanted to do was challenge the environmental movement, which he believed was constraining the "American Dream." The 1980s undid much of progress of 1970s.
Now the movement is renewed, but the divisiveness is still there. Despite everything we know about climate change and having president who wants change, especially in terms of energy conservation, it is still not universally accepted.
We are still on shaky ground.
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