Energy and diversity go hand in hand in the documentary “Denial” which premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival recently. With our ever-increasing and demanding need for fossil fuels and energy, Vermont’s electric company CEO, Dave Hallquist, has been ahead of the learning curve, attempting to bring his forward thinking know-how into the grid of reality. However, when his filmmaker son Derek decides to document his father’s progress in the fight for cleaner energy and a better Earth, he learns about a long-buried secret that his father isn’t the man he thought he was. Dave, now known as Christine, reveals on camera to his son that he is actually more comfortable as a woman. The film tackles denial on two fronts in perfect parallel form: climate change and identity. “Denial” intelligently portrays how we are more comfortable denying reality rather than facing the truth. It’s an emotionally raw journey of love, fear, and reality.
I had the opportunity to talk with both Derek and Christine who candidly shared with me their thoughts about the filming of “Denial” and their future hopes regarding climate change and our understanding of others’ sexual identity.
In the film, Derek interviews those closest to his father including family members, co-workers, and community leaders. It’s obvious that Derek is very close with his family, always concerned about the effects of his film on others, particularly his parents. Christine strongly felt that this film was Derek’s story and that “…he needs to tell it completely from his own perspective. If that means I come out as a monster that would be okay, as long as it was his truth. The good news is that was not his truth.”
“Denial” is a very personal movie for Derek and having spent 8 years on it, taking time away from his own family, there is a bit of anger and perhaps resentment toward it. In fact, he described it as being “…like an endless wormhole…” And even with his acceptance of his father now being Christine, he still struggles with how this has impacted his mother. “…mom always asked why I was interviewing her about dad’s gender identity for an energy documentary.” He continued, “As time went on, she even drew the parallels to society’s struggles with their energy identity and accepting climate change.” Derek seemed determined to wake others up about the impact of electricity usage on our environment, but the story “became a lot more complicated both at work and in private….We had to make a film about struggle and ultimately acceptance.” Derek’s emotions are raw and open, truly allowing viewers to feel his pain and frustration. He admits that he continues to struggle even today.
The film certainly runs two parallel story-lines, but can both end with acceptance and understanding? That remains to be seen. Christine’s forward thinking was described as being “…born decades too early.” She countered that, “With any significant change there are those who are ahead of their time…I believe real change occurs through leadership, collaboration and constancy of purpose.”
Since the film, Christine has received both local and national support. Thankfully, she has not seen any evidence that her continued efforts toward renewable energy sources has been compromised as she transitioned into Christine. Continuing forward, Christine hopes that the “…Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) can demonstrate an effective model that shows how we can completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels in all areas including transportation and heating and cooling.” Using renewable energy, Smart Grids and appliances is in the works and currently, “the VEC footprint is greater than 95% carbon free.” Sadly, Christine admits, this will not repair the damage to our Earth, but it is working in a positive direction. The parallels continue to be clear in Christine’s story and climate change. She had reached a point of intolerable suffering existing as a man. She feels that the population as a whole will also have to reach a point of misery that is intolerable before we do something about our environment. She believes that will happen in the next 10 years for our environtment.
“Denial” is a timely and relevant documentary told with bold and powerful emotion. It gives you hope that we can face our fears and the unknown, educate ourselves, and be open to new and different ideas if we allow ourselves to be. The stories told, addressing completely different topics, really tell one fluid story—denial is intolerable; acceptance and understanding allows us to progress.