“Becoming Sustainable” debuts in online film festival Culture Unplugged June 16!

Update: “Becoming Sustainable” is now live in the Green Unplugged online film festival!  Click here to be taken directly to the film.
Click here to explore other films in the film festival.

Heads up, Sust Enable fans!

The short film, “Becoming Sustainable,” based on The Sust Enable Project, will be available to screen online in Culture Unplugged, a global eco-consciousness film festival beginning June 16, 2015 and extending for six months.

Culture Unplugged is a global film festival that aspires to share “conscious films that may awaken us to our holistic future—integral individuals and human communities thriving in coexistence with nature.”  Since 2008, Culture Unplugged has been visited by 64 million viewers from 231 countries.

“Becoming Sustainable,” delves into an evolving journey of “what it means to live sustainably,” told through the eyes of one young filmmaker-activist’s efforts to live a lifestyle “as sustainable as possible” in the modern United States.  Its innovative recursive narrative and aesthetic styles establish it as the first “meta-mentary.”

“The best way to view the metamentary is to imagine that the film itself is sentient,” says director Caroline Savery.  “That as you are watching it, the film is watching itself, and modifying its behavior based on what it learns.”

Please make sure to watch “Becoming Sustainable” on Culture Unplugged and share it with friends and families!  Details and a direct link coming soon.  For questions, email sust.enable@gmail.com.


Update on status of Sust Enable: The Metamentary

Update 12-3-14: Check out our latest newsletter to TSEP Supporters here.

Dear Sust Enable fans & followers,

Where to begin?  It has been a strange time these past couple years, and I have not been as good about keeping y’all updated as I would have liked.  I had big things in mind for Sust Enable: The Metamentary (SE:MM) as you know, and big things are still ahead–although they are not the same “big things” I originally dreamed of.

Back in February – July of 2013, my cinematographer and main creative collaborator Jon Skocik and I convened to begin editing a short “proof of concept” teaser film.  This proof-of-concept would combine footage from the original Sust Enable webisode series in 2008 and footage shot with an all-volunteer crew in 2011, and would exhibit some of the story elements and recursive stylistic designs intended for the feature length documentary, SE:MM.  We began this venture feeling that we had done all we could do to “tell” people about the holistically-sustainable vision for the SE:MM film, and now to move this film forward we had to “show” in film form what it is we were trying to accomplish.  This tool would then be used to seek substantial funding.  By this time, it had been over three years since I had begun trying to make a feature-length documentary that would explore the meaning of sustainability on all levels of the film’s creation (story, styles and real-world production).

From August – November 2013, I moved into my parents house and worked full time on seeking organizational partnerships and grant fundraising for SE:MM.  Nearly every conversation I had with a potential creative partner or production house was positive–now we just needed the financing.  I submitted three full-scale grant applications for thousands of dollars.  For every one, I was declined.

This was the final lesson in a long trail of failed grant applications, teaching me: grant fundraising was not a viable option for SE:MM.  The same pattern of high-stakes, energy-intensive, and ultimately declined grant applications was true for every time in the project’s three year history that we had sought significant financing to support the next phase of SE:MM development.  With grant fundraising proving a constant dead-end, we had iteratively boot-strapped our production phases with countless hours of volunteer labor, modest cash donations from individuals, and lots of support and cooperation from in-kind partners.  But that was the last straw.  I had given so much of my life over to the Sust Enable project.  I couldn’t afford to give any more and have nothing to show for it.  I decided that I would be done with SE:MM if my full-time outreach & fundraising efforts did not produce workable results by November.

On November 21, 2013, I moved to Denver, CO and began a new life.  That was it.  I was done with SE:MM.

But, as many folks reminded me, there was no sense in declaring I was “done” with SE:MM entirely.  It would be closing off a door to what is and was a huge part of my life.  At first I avoided any thought of Sust Enable for a few months, nursing my bitter wounds.  Gradually, though, I began to consider Sust Enable with fresh eyes.

The Sust Enable Project has important messages in it that I want to share with the world.  What if I changed my assumptions about how I could share it?  What would it mean to me to truly “release” SE:MM for me: not in the sense of releasing a film, but as though releasing a bird from closed hands?  I want to share it, I want people to share in it.  But it had become clear that the form I had dreamed it in–the feature-length experimental documentary–was not to come into manifestation.  Did that require me to let go of all the work and effort entirely?  With the resources and vision I had, how could I release the project in a way that would allow me to feel “done” in a fulfilled way?

While at first that short film was intended as a proof-of-concept exhibitng some styles, themes and scenes for the purpose of a feature “teaser” and fundraising tool–slowly, creepingly, over time, the film morphed into a standalone short film.  Eventually, this became the goal of the project.  Once I had finally let go of my fixation over how I wanted this project to be created and received, I was able to see how it would be possible for me to actually release it.

Today.  A day I never knew would come.  Today I am proud to announce:

Becoming Sustainable: a metamentary is a 25 minute, 10 second short film that has been submitted to a dozen film festivals throughout the United States and Canada.  If it is selected, it will screen, and then a possible distribution deal will emerge from that.  While, believe me, dear followers, I would love to share the full film freely with you all right away, I feel it’s better to allow the anticipation and buzz to build up a bit.  I believe it’s worth it.

The next step for me is to email all the donors of the film.  If you had donated to Sust Enable, via our crowdfunding campaign or another form, and had been promised a DVD of the film in return for your donation, I will honor those requests and send you a DVD of the short as soon as I am able.

Next, I plan to release a majority of the film’s interview content under a Creative Commons License (to the extent I am permitted to do so by the participants’ release forms).  That means interview content from Sust Enable: The Metamentary will be freely available to use, recut and remix.  So all the good moments and nuggets of insight won’t be lost, but will instead be liberated for people to interface with the media as they see fit.

Lastly, I plan to release a short book, with the working title, “The Metamentary Manifesto.”  The Manifesto will be a passionate call-to-action of the need to commit and challenge ourselves to holistic ecological thinking in our filmmaking undertakings.  The Manifesto will also provide an in-depth mapping of how the proposed and planned Sust Enable: The Metamentary film would have embodied the utmost in recursive, adaptive and ecological practices in filmmaking.   I aim to time the release of this book at or shortly after the debut screenings of the film in film festivals (hopefully) across the U.S.

With this three-part release strategy–short film, raw footage, manifesto–I will feel that all the content of the Sust Enable project that I hope will better the world, awaken people’s ecological awareness, and broaden their “sustainability literacy”–will be done.  Truly done.  Free, released, and complete.

So then, maybe then… I can move onto other things.



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?


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