The environment has been a topic of interest (and concern) since I was a child back in the 1960’s. From Woodsy the Owl’s campaign, “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” to Smokey the Bear’s “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” there was some spark within me that pushed me to appreciate, learn, and care about nature. But now, in today’s global meltdown, literally, the environmental issues are staring us in the face. No crystal ball is needed to see our future as we are seeing the effects of climate change all over the world. From devastating and unprecedented storms ravaging many parts of the world including the U.S. recently to drought and famine creating a refugee crisis in Somalia, Syria, and Sudan, the future is a scary place. Is it too late? What difference will it make if I walk to the grocery store instead of driving? What can I do? I’m just one person.
As a film critic, I am drawn to documentaries and even a few narrative feature films that address the topic of climate change and the environment, but in so doing, it can leave me feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Recently, Josh Fox’s documentary, the title almost as long as the film, “How To Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change,” at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival created such anxiety in me that I wanted to curl up into a fetal position or go have a couple martinis. I chose the latter. This was followed by Jared P. Scott’s film “The Age of Consequences” and Al Gore’s sequel in 2017, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” a little shorter title, but just as impactful. The difference in the message of Gore’s film is hope. There is hope. And Jamie Redford’s newest documentary, “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” is more than hopeful, it is inspiring and brings the topic back to the people accentuating that it is in our control.
Redford makes this film a personal journey, one in which we are invited along. His lack of pretense and knowledge of renewable energy connects us to him, allowing us to identify with him and his motivation to learn more and bring that information to the forefront. His daughter, just like my 20-something daughter would do, humorously refused to embark upon the adventure across the country to learn about the great strides and action our own states are taking in creating green, clean energy. Redford does find company along the way as he meets and interviews high level military officers, government officials, energy experts, corporate leaders and regular citizens.
Redford starts that the very beginning—his own family and surprisingly, their connections to oil companies. We then see how his own very famous father and his mother set about a very different path. But Jamie Redford’s knowledge about energy wasn’t something that was inherently known to him. He does drive everywhere and as he admits, he’s not ever been into efficiency, comparing his preference of working out more instead of having less ice cream. Sounds reasonable to me. His knowledge base and lifestyle isn’t that much different from you and me and we learn with him on his adventure across America.
Have you ever really thought about where our electricity comes from? Redford hadn’t either and talking with energy expert Matthew Nordan, Redford learns how to trace the lines of his own electricity to its source. As with any puzzle in life, the more your discover, the more you realize you need to learn. His journey to find the answers to more and more questions takes him to Texas where he meets a very conservative Republican mayor of Georgetown, TX who sees the big picture of the benefits for his community in investing in and supporting renewable energy. We then travel to Oregon, meet with Apple to learn about their 100% renewable energy commitment to every store, office, and storage facility, and then, very unexpectedly, we end up in Buffalo, NY—the new center for the solar industry. Growing up just south of Buffalo, where I don’t recall many sunny days, this was simply shocking. If Buffalo can do this, why isn’t every city!
Each and every stop and encounter Redford has, including talking with activist and actor Mark Ruffalo and the Navy who makes their own energy, is simply uplifting. From Nevada where the politics of big monopolies and government attempted to thwart the people’s efforts to go green to the fight they fought to protect not only their rights but the future of our world indicate that the people are speaking. Redford finds that we are on our way to using clean energy. He even went to the effort to evaluate his home, install solar panels (https://www.vivintsolar.com), and (are you ready for this one?) turn down his water heater two degrees. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter.
Never before have I finished watching a film about our environment and its future and felt energized and positive. There’s a first for everything! “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” gives us an easy to follow lesson in electricity production, delivery, and how renewables are being seamlessly integrated. While our current political leaders may be denying climate change, the people of this country recognize its validity and that we can do something now. As one woman said, “If Washington will not, we will.” This documentary is as educational as it is inspiring. Maybe that crystal ball isn’t as clear as I thought because I now have hope.
The film will premiere on December 11 at 8 pm on HBO.
For more information about the film, go to www.redfordcenter.org/happening