Bob Doppelt “From Me to We” podcast

http://dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/501/18313.html

We expand our choices by altering our interpretation of the world…

Climate change and growing economic inequities and other problems we’re facing today are really not technical problems [nor policy, energy, or fossil fuel problems], it’s a crisis of human thought and imagination.

Highly recommended talk from Bob Doppelt about how to align one’s understanding and behavior with ancient spiritual precepts… which happen to also be “how to live sustainably.”  (This is a great example of the kind of content we’ll have in the Sust Enable film through asking questions like “what does sustainability mean?”)

Share

Sustainability is mainly a spiritual crisis, not a material one

The more godlike he becomes, the less godly Homo economicus behaves.” – Andrew Nikiforuk

When I started out as a sustainability activist, I firmly believed that “sustainability” meant finding better, more efficient ways for humans to live within the means of our resources.  I considered the problem of sustainability as a problem of materials and design: too many humans, not enough global resources to fulfill our aspirations.  So, to fix this problem, we must design more efficient ways of fitting on the planet (a la Buckminster Fuller, of whose life work I was a faithful follower at the time.)

Over the course of four years, my definition of sustainability and subsequently, my life’s course, have been revolutionized many times.  I continue to actively integrate many diverse perspectives on sustainability into my life.  But perhaps the most significant thing I learned from my journey thus far is that our serious lack of sustainability is not strictly a materials problem.  It is mainly a problem of how we interpret the world in which we live.  Today we have very real material problems, such as ocean acidification and global warming, but these material manifestations are an effect of what is, at root, a spiritual crisis.  A spiritual crisis exemplified by the persistent assumption that the nature of reality is fundamentally objective and material.

Many people still harbor the belief that human beings are not, at our most basic level, living beings–that we are more accurately defined by our intellectual, artistic and technological pursuits, and that one day we will transcend our earthly limitations and jet off throughout space as sheer consciousness, utterly free.  Four years ago, I too believed that humans are vastly and uniquely more accomplished and intelligent than the rest of life–that we were “special,” and thus could play by our own rules.  I believed that with the same gumption and elbow grease we used to build our modern society, we will easily overcome the environmental management problems facing us.  In other words, I believed firmly in the supremacy of humankind.

Possibly the only reason I am not an evangelical “transhumanist” today is that I ended up putting my supremacist philosophies to the test, through embarking on an ambitious project to devise and then embody a universal formula (like a Theory of Everything) for 100% sustainable living, perfectly balancing the equation between Earth materials and human lives.  The formula would be so perfect that if every human reorganized their customs and applied this formula to their lives, everywhere on Earth, we would achieve total global perpetual sustainability–i.e., a sustainability utopia.

Of course, my initiative fantastically failed.

But I didn’t.  My consciousness (itself never short on gumption) rose from the ashes attempting to make sense of what all had happened to my grandiose project.  Which proved–if nothing else–that I am not my aspirations.  I am a living body who can survive–and indeed thrive–after the successes or failures of any of my projects.
Continue reading

Share

“The Tuhoe Building” Suggests Two Sustainability Stories in One

The Tuhoe Building – Te Wharehou o Tuhoe from Alexander Behse on Vimeo.

It’s so wonderful to me, as the director of Sust Enable: The Metamentary and The Sust Enable Project, to see a surge in new independent documentaries taking a reflexive and/or allegorical approach to the stories they are telling.  This film in particular seems to suggest that in the story of a building, one can see the shapes of a story about how humans can create a sustainable future.  In my experience, asking questions about what makes something–like the Tuhoe Building–sustainable necessarily requires deeper reflection and this kind of holistic, systems-thinking storytelling that seems to be telling more-than-one stories, integrating multiple scales and angles, into one whole.  I look forward to seeing the full film!

Sust Enable: The Metamentary is seeking to join up with a full production team in order to bring this vision to life.  If you can help, please contact us.  And check out these other ways to support!

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

Sustainability and Sust Enable: Reflexivity

This theme is closely related to the theme of holism.

If we are to assume that in a sustainable system, all aspects of the system are somehow unified, somehow all-one, and are in fact irreducible (systems-thinking), then it follows that in that same system, anything the system does ends up impacting itself in some way. Therefore, if an organism pollutes its environment, it will end up polluting itself. If an organism enriches its environment, it improves its chances of survival overall. In a sustainable system, meaning and value come from the system’s own processes.

For further resources on reflexivity in art: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Modules/MC30820/reflexivity.html

Interpreting Reflexivity in Sust Enable

Reflexivity and holism are particularly important themes because their influence pervades through all levels of our film. By seeking to embody sustainability at one level (the story), we are compelled to apply it reflexively on all levels (the style and the process).

On the level of the story, we choose to follow the organically evolving lifestyle of the film’s director, and, to a smaller extent, the film’s own processes, in looking for evidence of the generic claims about sustainability made by our interviewees. For example, if an interviewee argues for why a sustainable system must be adaptable, that section of the narrative will explore how our director Caroline’s life now, and in contrast to her extreme lifestyle-change project in 2008, incorporates (or fails to incorporate) said principle.

On the level of the style, as the film’s story progresses from simplistic to increasingly complex facts and models of sustainability, with each sustainable feature comprising a small sequence, the film’s style will adapt and mirror the feature being discussed in the narrative. For example, while an interviewee discusses the significance of stakeholder participation to a sustainable system, the camera may passed around to several different crew members to “show” their perspectives and the role they play in the story.

On the level of our processes, we will constantly challenge ourselves to consider how our own processes incorporate the principles of sustainability that we learn about. Since we can never know absolutely what the meaning of sustainability is, we will closely analyze our own processes to determine what works best for us, and with this knowledge, we will shape our narrative structure around which themes resonate most with us.

This post is one of a series about The Sust Enable Project’s main themes and principles.  These are themes that have emerged from our sustainability research, that we plan to fully embody in our sustainable filmmaking process.  For more posts like this, check out the Core Themes and Principles category of posts.

Share