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?

This poses substantial creative challenges, encompassed by the informal handle of the film being a metamentary, which, as one of Sust Enable’s prospective interviewees, Aleco Christakis commented, seeks to go “beyond documentary” to be a holistic cinema process.  Cinema happens to be a highly collaborative art form, requring lots of creative input and co-operation, and also a lot of money–two areas that Sust Enable has struggled with from the start.  Only the best, most flexible minds would be able to bring this ambitious project to the screen, but how to attract those people without money?  We’ve tried volunteer labor, but that does not adequately account for the needs that whole people have.  Raising money for salaries and production is a challenge because grantmakers and investors want to see a promise of deliverables, which in film terms, usually involves “big names,” “target audience,” “box office draw”, etc.  All Sust Enable can offer is a commitment to the process of attempting to embody sustainability, and sincere trust that the process will be ground-breaking and transformational.  Which so far, has not been an apparently sufficient argument for grants.

This leads us to try more radical approaches to getting the project done.  Caroline has been immersing herself in researching alternative economies and business structures.  Her approach now is to establish herself–through writing blogs, publishing articles, giving public speaking engagements–as the director of a project which will offer people a common space to openly, independently engage with different ideas about the meaning of sustainability.  This can be done through cinema, but also through alternative platforms, such as Internet-based and social-media ones.  The overall mission of the broader project (beyond the film, indeed) is to engage the public in contributing, sharing, and participating in the collective effort to define, and achieve, sustainability.

Sustainability is contentious territory–sustainability and its social movements are not the property or domain of only policymakers and corporations.  Our lives, our futures, our social aspirations, are tied up in this shift to a sustainability awareness–we experience sustainability on a daily basis, even if we don’t use such terminology.  Hence it is our right and our opportunity to define sustainability in our lifetimes.  Sustainability is and should be a movement of people who want to live better, who want to live in as whole beings, in communion with their environment, engaged in their communities, willing to tackle tough issues and inspired to take right action.  The Sust Enable Project can offer space to do that.  The Sust Enable Project, through independent inquiry into “what does sustainability mean?,” aspires to allow anybody to discover a wide range of ideas about sustainability, to test one’s personal beliefs, to discover critical perspectives, to link up with others over specific issues or projects, to openly analyze and critique common assumptions about sustainability.  In this way, The Sust Enable Project is not only a film anymore–it is a broader social mission.  While Caroline strongly believes that through collaborative, holistic filmmaking, these ideas can reach the broadest audiences and can achieve the broadest impact, The Sust Enable Project can be active right now, even without the funding or crew needed for a full production.  The Sust Enable Project can be active through providing a space for people to “suss out sustainability”.  Because sustainability is our work in progress.

Consider this blog an extension of this vision.  Along with guest blogging on other sites such as RealitySandwich.com and Sustainablog.org, Caroline will update this blog frequently with fascinating and diverse slices of sustainability research, critical commentary on current events, “unpacking” simplistic claims of sustainability, airing outstanding sustainability projects of all scales and styles, and more!  All as a means to develop the network of support for The Sust Enable Project, efforts made possible by Caroline’s endless energy and profound passion for asking people “what do you think sustainability means?”  The question may never be answered, and in fact, may only generate more questions, but the process of asking it is deeply informational and rewarding in a life-changing way.  As long as Caroline is around, so will The Sust Enable Project aspire.

You can support these efforts by donating, sharing this site with others, and/or reaching out if you want to get involved.  Sust Enable is on a continual evolution, and it is only as strong as the minds and bodies connected through it.  Join us in co-determining what sustainability means to our fragile shifting world.

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