Becoming California traces environmental change from early geology to human engineering

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Becoming California, a new environmental documentary by Emmy-Award winning filmmaker Kit Tyler, reconciles humans and nature. Becoming California - KQED

Narrated by award-winning actress Jane Fonda and with an original score by legendary musician Pat Metheny, this two-hour documentary tells the epic story of environmental change on America's western edge. It is scheduled to premiere in September 2014.

Becoming California examines the state's past and present in order to form ideas for a better future. The program explains how California came to be: how colliding landforms interact with the ocean and atmosphere to create one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse places on earth. Becoming California then examines how humans have impacted this environment: population growth, resource exploitation and technology have transformed California and its original ecosystem. It is now the most radically changed region in North America.

Finally, Becoming California offers a vision for the future. A future where nature and civilization can co-exist as allies rather than rivals, where natural ecosystems can thrive alongside an active human economy and civilization.


"Fundamentally and profoundly, we've changed the world.  We've actually re-engineered the earth’s ecosystems," says Michael Rozensweig, Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. "The question is not whether we should do that, because we are doing it. The question is whether we can do it better. The question is whether we can produce some of these new environments, some of these new ecosystems that not only are good for us, but are also good for the world of nature, and I say we can."

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Media Contacts:

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Program Description: 

Act One: Assembling California
Explore the deep time origins of California. From the theory of plate tectonics to climate change to the ever-changing tapestry of life, act one explains how California came to be, how it naturally functions and how the accelerating pace of change may now signal widespread environmental collapse. Complex scientific concepts are translated into easy to understand, visually breathtaking sequences to provide the essential owner's guide to California’s natural history.

Act Two: Reinventing California
Witness the pageant of human transformation in California. From native colonization at the end of the last ice age, across European and Mexican occupations, accelerating from the Gold Rush to the dizzying pace of change today, Reinventing California tells how population growth, resource exploitation and technology transformed California into the richest, the most populated and the most radically changed region in North America.

Act Three: Reconciling California
The third act begins with the sober admittance that California has been completely transformed. It also dismisses the naïve notion that it can be restored to some pristine, pre-human state.  Instead of dwelling on what has been lost, the finale of Becoming California celebrates opportunity. From the redwood forests in the north to the deserts in the south, from the revitalization of the Los Angeles River to sustainable agriculture, living architecture and more, Reconciling California shows how nature and civilization are no longer bitter adversaries but indispensable partners in a statewide effort to engineer healthy functioning ecosystems amidst thriving economies.

Becoming California - KQED split

Quotes from the Program: 

"The missing ingredient is reconciliation ecology.  The missing strategy to preventing the loss of ninety-five percent of the earth’s biodiversity is reconciliation ecology, and what that means is learning to meet nature halfway.  Nature’s very adaptable and if we learn how to provide a reasonable ecological theater all around us: where we live, where we work, where we take our food and where we grow our timber too.  If we learn to do that, then nature will invade with its own solutions, will adapt to those new habitats, and will march on undiminished." Michael Rozensweig, Ph.D. Author, Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona

"Californians have always lived in the future. They’ve always seen wide-open possibility -- the whole ideology of the Golden State is about the future. And so the idea of becoming California I think plays to that. We have to become a California that uses its environment more carefully, that thinks about the values of life more carefully, that does not simply pursue quick buck of the Gold Rush or of capital accumulation without thinking about it mindlessly.  So in that sense we become a different California.  We are one of the forefronts of the modern world. That is not hyperbole - we’re one of the technological wonderlands of the world; we’re a cultural fount for the world and we have been at the head of the environmental movement for a century. So indeed, we have a very special role to play but we damn well have to do it. We can’t just rest on our laurels. We have to keep innovating, keep thinking, keep fighting… see if we can’t change the world before it’s too late."  Richard Walker, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Geography, University of California, Berkeley

"…And it's about love, it's about beauty, it's about celebration, it's about economy.  It's about elegance, it's about security, it's about justice, it's about all these things at once.  And whatever it is that turns your crank, go do that.  Because in this issue there is no right, and there is no left, and there is no reverse.  There's forward and there's full speed ahead.  And when you hit a speed bump you take off and fly."  William McDonough, Designer/Author William McDonough + Partners Architecture & Community Design

"For more than 150 years, Americans in California and now the world in California have been struggling to learn, to use, to employ, to cherish, to preserve California properly.  California has history. (It) has manmade enterprise.  California has technology.  California has nature.  That struggle continues in our time.  The future will see us, we hope, come up with new instrumentalities, new ways of reconciling these two dynamic principles that have always been at the core of the California experience." Kevin Starr, Ph.D. Author, California State Librarian Emeritus

Production Team:

Kit Tyler
Becoming California was created by the award-winning producer/photographer, Kit Tyler (Saving The Bay, The Forgotten Journey).  Kit’s career spans more than thirty years as a photojournalist and documentary filmmaker.  He is the president of The American Mercury Inc. a production company specializing in broadcast documentary programs.  Kit spent five years and logged more than eighty thousand miles, traveling the length and breadth of the state, researching, shooting and interviewing for Becoming California.  He worked with over a hundred different scientists, historians, authors and academics in pursuit of a story worthy of California’s diversity, complexity and legendary beauty.  Over sixty interviews were conducted; among the many notables were William McDonough, the visionary designer and author of Cradle To Cradle and The Upcycle; Michael Rozensweig, a pioneer of reconciliation ecology and author of Win-Win Ecology; and Kevin Starr, California state librarian Emeritus, Member of the California Hall of Fame and author of the defining California history series, Americans and The California Dream.

Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda narrates Becoming California.  She is an American actress, writer, political activist, former fashion model, and fitness guru.  She has won two Academy Awards, an Emmy Award and seven Golden Globe Awards (including 3 special awards), among many other accolades.  She announced her retirement from acting in 1991, but returned to film in 2005 with Monster in Law, and later Georgia Rule, released in 2007. Most recently she starred in The Butler as first lady, Nancy Reagan.  Her workout videos have revolutionized the fitness industry.  Fonda has been an activist and advocate for many political causes, including peace, the empowerment of women and girls, and a broad range of environmental issues.

Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny wrote, arranged and recorded the music for Becoming California.  He is a legendary American musician and composer whose body of work includes compositions for solo guitar, small ensembles, electric and acoustic instruments, large orchestras, and ballet pieces, with settings ranging from contemporary jazz to rock to classical.  Pat Metheny has won 20 Grammy Awards and has been nominated 33 times in 12 different categories – more than any other performer in Grammy history. He is the leader of the Pat Metheny Group and is also involved in duets, solo works and other side projects. His style incorporates elements of progressive and contemporary jazz, post-bop, Latin jazz and jazz fusion. Metheny also has three Gold Records and numerous readers’ poll awards.

Kit Tyler & Richard York
Kit Tyler and Richard York wrote the script for Becoming California.  Long time friends and writing partners, Kit and Richard researched the natural and human history of California for over two years before beginning a first draft of the script.  Two more years and dozens of versions later a final script was achieved.  “Many darlings were killed in the process,” admits Tyler.  For York, “struggling to distill millions of years of California’s complex environmental change into a clear dramatic structure was the greatest challenge and reward of my career.”  Both Tyler and York agree that the new story – moving from conflict to reconciliation – offers all Californians hope for the state’s environmental future.

Jim Baxter & Jeffrey White
Jim Baxter and Jeffrey White are the executive producers of Becoming California. Both are California natives and professors in the California State University system.  Jim Baxter has over 20 years of experience as a scientist and educator, with expertise in biological diversity, human impacts on ecological systems, and the role of educational media on environmental understanding.  He is currently a professor of biology at Sacramento State.  Jeffrey White has been an educator and a scientist for over 30 years. He taught in California public schools for many years and is currently a biology professor at Humboldt State University.  He is also Co-founder and Executive Director of the Redwood Science Project, a natural science education institute.


National Science Foundation
California State University, Sacramento
California State Parks
Redwood Science Project
San Diego Gas and Electric
Sahsen Fund
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