TSEP is hiring!

Exciting announcement: TSEP has an immediate need for an experienced documentary film producer!

The ideal candidate will be effective, experienced, creative and available immediately, as fundraising for a late Summer 2014 Production is already underway.  You can read more about the opportunity here.

Please spread the word!  Doing so will help bring us closer to a sustainable feature-length documentary film.   Continue reading

Share

Across Distances, Common Threads: The Catalyzing Moment When I Knew I Must Make “Sust Enable: The Metamentary”

I sat in my quiet, still, squatted bedroom one morning in April 2010.  It was a clear, sunny, and sweetly cool day–the open window welcomed a fresh breeze.  Finally feeling a little bit safe after months of reflection and writing, still raw from the psychic turbulence of having many of my assumptions about sustainability confronted, I picked up a printout of the very first article I had found using a Google Scholar search on the term “sustainability,” with the gentle notion that I was finally ready to start my research into what other people working on “sustainability” issues had to say about it.  This article was the top-listed one from the search I had conducted a day prior.  The article was “A Complexity Approach to Sustainability,” by A. Espinosa, R. Harnden, and J. Walker, published in the European Journal of Operational Research in 2008.  To know what others were writing and thinking about sustainability would help me develop my feature documentary film idea, I thought.  What happened next was a great shock.

It seemed that every academic argument made in this article aligned perfectly with the substantial revelations I made since the Sust Enable episode series went awry in 2008.  My most significant felt lessons from the collapsed Sust Enable project were being reinforced and affirmed on the level of this random, popular peer-reviewed publication about cybernetics.

At the line “this paper argues the need to wield analytical tools that themselves embody the principles of systemic, ecological thinking,” I gasped and uttered “oh my god!” to myself under my breath, as I remembered how the 2008 Sust Enable series failed to effectively achieve “100% sustainability” in part because the negative, critical, stressful production environment produced low-quality footage and an incomplete story.  I recalled my resulting commitment to produce a systemically-sustainable film the next time around.

At the article’s explanation about how organisms are “braided” or “coupled” to their particular environment, and that, given this, no objectivity is possible, but the most accurate judgments would be derived from considering the organism within the context of its environment, I couldn’t help but see the connection to my vision–that the new film incorporate ongoing critiques of the film’s own processes into the construction of the film’s story–as being the same core idea as braiding.  My breathing had unconsciously sped up; I stood up and began pacing around the room.  The authors were so far from me in their orientation, education, and research methods, yet their words struck so close to my experiences… how was this possible?

By the end of the article, with its comments on “wide and democratic participation,” “stakeholder involvement,” “complexity management” and “breakthrough process,” my tears were flowing.  I saw how my experiences since Sust Enable 2008, and my ideas for a film inspired from the flaws of my first attempt, might indeed be a very important story to tell.  Other people in very different fields and using different methods are discovering the same things I am about the meaning of sustainability… but I might be uniquely positioned to turn these lessons into a creative documentary film.  Reading through the Espinosa article again now, I still get chills.  It’s hard to express how substantial that day was for me in setting me on the journey toward Sust Enable: The Metamentary.

Ever since, I cannot shake the feeling that there may be some kind of universal nature of sustainability, as natural as the existence of water or of life.  Our current social agitation around issues of sustainability may be indicative that we are on the verge of (re)discovering a kind of “natural law”, which could guide us about how we are to live, and live well, as inhabitants of Earth.

And I believe that each and every human can know what sustainability means, and looks like, and feels like.  In fact, staking an independent claim to this word, and trusting only your own experiences and body to guide you, is key to developing a unique, individual sensitization to sustainability issues that will only further enrich our dialogs.

Some of us have more opportunities to explore sustainability–like people of native cultures, who are much more concerned with their lifestyle’s local and direct “sustainability” (the braiding of lifestyle to environment) than a civilized person whose Western-derived mega-culture relies on technology that commodifies everything, divorces goods from sources, attacks us with messages constantly reinforcing our inadequacy, frustrates meaningful community, and externalizes industrial costs across the planet.  Yet if scientists in an academic critical context could discover the same themes of sustainability that I too had identified through certain dramatic personal experiences during Sust Enable 2008 (and beyond), what does this say about the significance of sharing our experiences and visions for sustainability with one another?  What does this say about our interconnectedness, our collective consciousness?  What does this say about our gift for insight, and our subsequent obligation to act wisely?  What does this say of the potential for us to join forces to solve complex, interrelated problems?

One of the premises of the current, updated Sust Enable project is self-determination and reflexivity: we don’t have to rely on economic or governmental authorities to figure out what sustainability means on our behalf–we can uncover important insight into sustainable living just by tapping into our own unique and diverse realities.  Sust Enable: The Metamentary compares diverse interviewee commentary about the meaning of sustainability with footage of a simple life transforming over time, in an attempt to find supporting evidence for common sustainability principles everywhere–even in mundane human experiences.  To prove that this insight is ours to take–that we will be the generation to define sustainability, and that we will, in all our wisdom and freedom, get to clarify and renew humanity’s most sacred and most fulfilling work on this planet.

Do you think sustainability probably has an intrinsic nature, universal to all living things?  Why or why not?  If so, do you think we could ever articulate a universally applicable definition of sustainability?

Share

Making Space for the Emotional Story of Sustainability

When I first set out in 2008 to craft a 100% sustainable lifestyle that would be accessible for anyone in the world to mimic, I had my heart in the right place.

I believed that “sustainability” was a matter of too many humans and too little Earth.  I imagined that if I reduced my ecological footprint to zero–that is, producing no waste, just perfectly balanced inputs and outputs of food, water, and energy–then I would have essentially subtracted myself from the imbalanced equation, and created a model from which anyone could borrow, so they too could subtract themselves from the problem of global unsustainability.

It seems quite strange to me, looking back, that I considered myself and my impact on the world–as measurable only in terms of my material substance.  In other words, that I was only “a body”–and not my education, my relationships, or any of that stuff.  Also, that accounting for my body had to be done with literally no consequences to the material world.  It’s almost like, as I say in Episode 1 of the Sust Enable series, that in terms of my physical footprint, I would disappear completely.

Instead, as soon as I began to try to live along the lines of my warped, rigid plans for 100% sustainability–I didn’t disappear.  “I” came into sharp, uncomfortable focus.  Many of my internal assumptions and attitudes, which were “behind the scenes” while I carefully planned and strategized what my perfectly 100% sustainable life would look like, were suddenly exposed by conflicting experiences that defied my expectations.

Some parts of that initial lifestyle expanded my realm of awareness and have become a positive, integral part of my life (such as learning to identify plants).  Some parts were so recklessly ignorant that I compromised my actual life to meet their criteria (like, not having the know-how to grow my own food, I lost an unhealthy amount of weight).  I also saw how some parts, like the project’s design of me acting as both film producer and subject of the 100% sustainable lifestyle, actually contradicted and undercut my attempt to make a sustainable lifestyle.  I was trying to cram a whole new, unfamiliar lifestyle–and the load of producing and directing an eight-part episode series with crew and interviewees–into just one life, and of course, the pieces didn’t always fit together.  Sometimes I was my own barrier in achieving the 100% sustainability I sought.  Indeed… I began noticing that the most interesting part of this experiment had little to do with the material facts of my footprint, like whether I was using 5 or 20 liters of water in a day–but rather, how my direct experiences were shattering my expectations and forcing me to examine my own deeply-rooted internal assumptions–derived from my culture, my upbringing, my own goals–about sustainability and much more, that I never knew I had

To make a long story short, I ended the 2008 Sust Enable experiment with an enormous and beautifully tangled mess on my hands.  It is my dream to unravel this tangled mess and its numerous lessons in a feature-length artistic documentary film.

What I want to do with the upcoming film, Sust Enable: The Metamentary, is to hold space for the emotional story of sustainability.

Continue reading

Share

The Next Evolution in Advanced Film Styles

It is worth insisting that the strategies and styles deployed in documentary, like those of narrative film, change; they have a history. And they have changed for much the same reasons: the dominant modes of expository discourse change; the arena of ideological contestation shifts. The comfortably accepted realism of one generation seems like artifice to the next. New strategies must constantly be fabricated to re-present “things as they are” and still others to contest this very representation. –Bill Nichols, “The Voice of Documentary”

MC Escher - Hand with Reflecting Sphere

MC Escher – Hand with Reflecting Spher

Since reading Lord of the Flies in ninth grade I have been obsessed with the idea of allegory–of encoding one meaning within another, like Russian nesting dolls.  Analogy, allegory, simile, metaphor… to learn is to build from analogy.  The brain creates narratives to describe direct experiences through analogy; for example:

Pain : Your Body :: Whatever Behavior I am Doing : You (Your Survival).

So what if you simply increase the complexity of analogies to the point where you have to reference the system itself that is thinking in order to contextualize a point?  An observer becomes aware of his own observing activity when the complexity of his collective brain connections reaches a critical mass.  At this point, moviegoers are very familiar with cinema language and narrative conventions.  We are well aware of what’s going to “come next” in a formulaic film.  So what will be the next for filmmaking?  How do we continue making films that thrill, inspire, and stimulate whole populations?

After over 100 years of exposure to cinema, audiences are primed for the next level of movie experiences.  Some folks in Hollywood have interpreted this to mean IMAX, 3-D, CGI, and extra-long, convoluted story lines.  There’s even talk of building movie theaters whose seats jolt around based on action on the screen, and Smell-o-vision.  Yet as all these technological bells and whistles are tacked on to your moviegoing experience, stories become more and more impoverished–Hollywood now produces mainly stories based on only on franchises: sequels, prequels, and remakes.  As the costs to produce these high-tech movies skyrocket into the hundreds of millions of dollars, Hollywood becomes more hesitant to produce original content, thus stifling fresh, perhaps simpler ideas… meanwhile, those increases in movie spending is passed off to the consumer, in form of crazy high ticket prices.  Is this really what innovation looks like?

I see cinematic innovation a little differently. I believe a film’s story is enhanced when the story effectively refers to the assumptions of its audience–when the audience’s expectations become a factor in the story’s development.  When a film draws attention to its frame, its medium, it by extension draws attention to our expectations of that that medium.  This further draws on our historical exposure to and immersion in the evolution of film language, which further draws into light our social and cultural constructions of meaning — our “reality” — that is embedded in each one of us.  Documentaries and avant garde narrative films from the likes of Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky, and Charlie Kaufman do much to challenge our projections of a normal, predictable world, by challenging our expectations for a film and a meaningful film narrative.  You can refer to the film, and yet still the film can morph from that process.  This is, essentially, how creating new film products over time “locks in” certain style and narrative standards (like the close-up and parallel cutting, for example), while simultaneously opening up new possibilities for innovation in the films that follow.  In this way, film evolves.

Film is a highly technical and petroleum-based medium, but at its roots it is not a new medium.  At its roots, film is a sophisticated form of performance and storytelling, which are archaic (no negative connotation) methods of communication that are foundational to the way we relate to the world.  The function of sharing stories is to encode social values — that’s why, even in elaborate fantasies, the underlying structure of the story will often involve archetypes like hero, villain, mentor, and so forth.

Some have argued that even the quality of the movie theater environment — in a dark room with other rapt bodies, gazing at a flickering screen — harkens to our biological history of gathering around campfires to share crucial survival information through storytelling.  All the Hollywood film industry is doing (with its billion-dollar budgets, fanatic celebrity culture, and massive exploitation of humans and environment) is telling the same damn Hero’s Journey story in fancy dressing.  Though I’m not one to deny that film is a profoundly beautiful and sophisticated artform, it is also just a means for delivering simple stories, dressed way, way up.  Even as the stylization and technical delivery of these films seems limitless in expansion, somehow, the underlying stories seem ever more shallow.

When a society’s values are shifting as they are right now, we storytellers are pressured to tell meaningful stories.  We need new kinds of film, new stories encoding our new meanings.  I draw my inspiration from the reflexive (self-referencing) narrative and documentary films which in the last ten years have expanded into new dimensions of self-reference, subjective narratives, and non-chronological construction of narratives.  Reflexivity in the film form appeals to me intuitively because this artistic movement of drawing additional meaning into the story from the film’s own construction seems to me to mirror our society’s growing awareness of how our industrial, economic and social actions have widespread, dispersed ecological affects that can end up negatively impacting us in complex ways, even on a global scale.  Reflecting on our big and small life choices, we may discover startling consequences that are tied back to our own little narrative in a way that reshapes us.

My film Sust Enable: The Metamentary is firmly aligned with this movement in filmmaking.  Lots of film theory research and creative development over the past three years has afforded me a strong yet flexible film “container” that will as fully as possible represent its core question “What does sustainability mean?”on all levels of the film’s creation.  The design for Sust Enable: The Metamentary is well-researched and thoughtfully crafted… but what will go in the container?  What defines our current debates about sustainability?
How might this container have to flex beyond known bounds, in order to effectively contain such world-changing questions?  How might film not only be more effectively reflexive, but more inclusive, more participatory, centered on audience-empowerment instead of audience-numbing?
At The Sust Enable Project, we are committed to seeing these questions through; to asking more of the film medium and more of the filmmaking industry.  We want to facilitate people defining their own stories, not to have the same old stories told for them.  This intention is embedded in our productive design, too–we are looking for partners in this ambitious task.  Though we are decidedly not casting for heros or villains, we are currently looking for talented, compassionate, forward-thinking filmmakers and mediamakers to join us, in dynamically modeling a successful, sustainable film and filmmaking protocol on the diverse sustainable successes emerging on our amazing planet.  The socio-economic trend for “infinite growth” will not bear out in the long run, nor can it bear out in our film industry and cinematic technologies either–it becomes unworkably inaccessible, for both filmmakers and film consumers.  Since it cannot grow forever, now is the time to apply our creativity to make film a little more reflexive, a little more provocative, a little more rooted… a little more real.
Share

Sust Enable as a platform for openly “workshopping” sustainability

Sust Enable has adopted many forms throughout its development from a seed film idea two years ago, derived out of filmmaker/author Caroline Savery’s remarkable struggles with the Sust Enable episode series in 2008.

Caroline wanted to share how her life had been radically altered–for the better–through practically testing her naive, culturally-influenced attitudes about what sustainability means in a three-month “sustainable living” experiment.  With a ten-year background in filmmaking, she wanted to tell this story through the film medium–namely, with a documentary that would illustrate her trials, tribulations, and her maturing philosophy that this one little word, “sustainability,” could encode a massive shift in culture, consciousness and conduct.  And from the tough-earned insights she learned about sustainability, it was important to her to approach the production of the documentary film in an authentically sustainable, holistic way.

This seed developed into an ambitious vision.  What if the entire film production process was built upon an adapting, evolving list of sustainability principles?  The world is currently working out definitions of sustainability in a variety of settings, fields, and lives–are there any emergent, common themes to this movement that the film could use as guidelines and models?  What if the film’s entire process embodied these values–would the final product not only be about what sustainability means, but actually look, feel, and be a more sustainable film?  How would this effort contribute to global sustainability? Continue reading

Share

Expanding the social function of storytelling

At the Evolver Convergence two weekends ago, Daniel Pinchbeck uttered a line that has been echoing in my head ever since.  I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something close to “perhaps the reason for storytelling in cultures is about coordinating behavior.”

Coordinating behavior.  Wow.  Whether in a primitive, small-scale human hunter-gatherer clan, or our massive industrial globalized sprawling society, we tell stories not merely to transmit information critical to survival, but to coordinate our behavior relating to the information.  Stories aren’t just “I found a herd of buffalo–come this way.”  Stories have moral conflicts, often represented by contrasting characters, and they have problem solving (conflict and resolution).  Stories are built on our built-in process to make analogies–stories may even be allegories, which recursively tell two stories at once.  Our stories have models for action embedded in them.  Through our ability to relate emotionally, we imagine ourselves in the place of the hero, and we learn, through the drama of the story, what we ought to do to succeed.

The story of how we, as humanity, might achieve sustainability may not star a single hero.  It may not have an obvious villain.  Since we are the ones that made this mess, and the ones who are compelled to clean it up, maybe the (hi)story of how we might actually orchestrate such a change in behavior requires a hard, deep look at ourselves–at our natures as the source of incredible creativity, profound compassion, and devastating greed.  Thus, our new stories may look drastically different than they ever have. Continue reading

Share

Sea Change for Sust Enable

Hello everyone,

It is my joy to share with you today some new direction for Sust Enable: The Metamentary.

If you are wondering “what has Sust Enable been up to lately?,” I appreciate your curiosity!  The Sust Enable project has evolved through many phases, just like any growing organism.  It has been in a dormant period lately, as we had to honestly assess our capacity as an all-volunteer, micro-budget endeavor.  Sust Enable is about to emerge from a dormant phase, but it is certainly not dead, or even ailing.  It has merely been thoughtfully evolving, same as ever.

The film’s main mission has always been to try to embody sustainability as effectively as possible at all levels of the film’s creation, and thus to serve as an educational model and empowerment tool.  This film is going to try to live up to its working title of “metamentary” by going “beyond” traditional cinema structures and devices (building on, not hating on, I’d like to note!) and innovating a more sophisticated, holistic model of filmmaking, film style, and storytelling–as justified, of course, by our film’s expansive, slippery subject matter.  In this effort to embody sustainability as best we can, at times, the Sust Enable project has:

  • adopted a radically inclusive collective production structure;
  • held Community Feedback Sessions which morphed into Sustainability Jams, where people shared practical sustainable lifestyle skills and shared their perspectives on what sustainability means;
  • employed online collaborative devices to maintain collaboration between all volunteer stakeholders;
  • and we have gone through many different visions of what the film would look like.

And in this ongoing process, I have sheared away a lot of what Sust Enable is not, and discovered amazing insight into what Sust Enable is.

Sust Enable is a very special project.  As its Director, I have recognized that for me to hold the complex vision for what Sust Enable needs to be, my ambitious artistic standards exceed my drive and abilities as Producer.  One thing I have learned is that I need an experienced, highly creative production team to bring this project to life. Continue reading

Share

News (new people, new workshops, new momentum!)

The Sust Enable team would like to welcome Meg Koleck and Sarah Megyesy to our project! Meg and Sarah will be serving as Assistant Producer interns for this semester. We really look forward to working with you. And thanks for being so inspired, and for appreciating–or at least tolerating–our ever-in-flux “organic” filmmaking process.

With the help from these two new producers, Sust Enable’s production capacity has expanded! We are looking for people who would like to share their definition of sustainability with us from around the Pittsburgh area. What does it mean to you to “live sustainably?” What parts of your life are “sustainable?”  Why does sustainability matter to you? If you’d like to be interviewed, or know someone who should be interviewed, contact our director Caroline at carolinesavery [at] gmail [dot] com.

Belated thanks to Kevin May (Phil Osophical) for teaching at our last Sustainability Jam on August 11. The topic was “How to Conduct a Gift Circle” and how gift circles relate to sustainability. Our next Sustainability Jam will be on September 8, and the topic is “Maintaining your Bicycle”.  You’re invited! Check out the full invitation here.

In other news… Caroline Savery, our director, will be teaching a workshop on “applying the wisdom of sustainability to activist organizing” at the Building Change Conference in Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday, October 15th!  Check out the amazing initiative behind the Building Change conference, and read about Caroline’s workshop here.

We are also proud to announce that we have just received our LLC status from the state of Pennsylvania. Hooray, we’re legit!  A lot of good things are happening now, with much forward momentum…

Thanks for your involvement!

– The Sust Enable Crew

Share