All of the sudden people said, “Wait a minute, this is not how we have to live.”
…Call us Peace, We’re about peace…
Paul Watson on a wide screen is sweet looking, kind of like a baby as a young man, thinner with dark curly hair framing his doe-eyed face as he stands in life-threatening danger. He is one of the treasures of this film of many treasures. I know him as a burly guy; a larger, gray-haired bearded man; the sea shepherd. I feel instinctively that he is good, so good, that I post him on Facebook. Since watching Mark Kitchell’s documentary, Fierce Green Fire, I know more about why I do this. Even with this baby face, Watson’s demeanor is so very fearless, as he causally drifts into the frame in front of a whaler. It might be his first outing with the whales as part of the beginnings of a small group of do-gooders, finding their purpose amid the activism of the 60s.
“What do you call yourselves?”
A small group answers this question, which they are asked by a reporter at the start of their not quite organized activism. As they weather the opposition in this clip, one of them shouts, “Call us peace, we’re about peace” — they were being filmed as they put their bodies in-between destruction and life. Beguiling-looking creatures themselves, these activists were quite purposeful. One of the activists shouts, as he flings himself around an edge of what they are trying to shut down: “Green, hey, call us green peace.”
No one hired an ad executive to come up with this name. A small tribe of young’uns simply started the present-day, worldwide, and empowered Greenpeace. These were the bright beginnings of a sea of green and peaceful messagers, and deeper waves of work and consciousness. (And just this week, Greenpeace activists brought the planet another big success — the shutting down of Arctic oil drilling.)
One moving clip in Fierce Green Fire showed Paul and friends trying to save a beautiful female whale. They were not able to. Paul made moving, intense eye contact with her as she sunk into the depths moaning a loud, human-like moan as she died. Well, love was love for Paul. He fell deeply in, and he devotedly protects whales to this day.
The director of the University of Berkeley in the 60s tells Paul’s story and more in Fierce Green Fire. This is the stories of the activists, just common folks who got fed up, folks who got too restless about injustice, and individuals who became the force that could take on the empire.
A Story in 5 Acts
Fierce Green Fire is split into 5 acts, under the general topics in the table below.
A little more specifically:
- David Brower and the Sierra Club’s battle to halt dams in the Grand Canyon.
- Lois Gibbs struggle with Love Canal residents’ against 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals.
- Paul Watson and Greenpeace’s campaigns to save whales and baby harp seals.
- Chico Mendes and Brazilian rubbertappers’ fight to save the Amazon rainforest.
- Bill McKibben and the 25-year effort to address the impossible issue – climate change.
I kept thinking to myself, watching Lois Gibbs, that if I my child was getting sick in Love Canal, I would have jumped a bus to Mexico, with child in arms. However, I thank the stars that Gibbs did not, but instead managed to rally such a force that she got a couple of presidents to deal with her. Gibbs and the group she incited, non-violently, took government officials hostage in her toxic suburban Love Canal. Pushed by her maternal drive, she pushed it to a beautiful limit, to a brilliant reckoning that commands appreciation in deeper ways from all us organic mamas and papas than can easily be expressed. The next time someone calls you crazy for clear thinking, count yourself among the Lois Gibbs of the world. Recall Lois Gibbs’ struggle with Love Canal residents against 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals.
A Deeper View of Environmentalism as Civilizational Change
Surrounding these main stories are strands like environmental justice, going back to the land, and movements of the “global south” such as Chipko in India and Wangari Maathai in Kenya. Vivid archival film brings it all back, and insightful interviews shed light on the events and what they mean. The film offers a deeper view of environmentalism as civilizational change, bringing our industrial society into sustainable balance with nature.
These stories are woven into a tapestry of linked film stories, and each one will break your heart and amaze you all at once. The film will also make you want to get out there more and be part of it all.
Magic Realism in Life and Man
Watching the beauty, listening to the beauty of Chico Mendes’s life, his life work, his soulful journey to meet the needs of his people in Brazil — to save the Amazon rainforest — melts away any ability to live with complacency. It also helps one to realize the value in the life and death of a true leader, a true hero.
There is so much more to the sweeping magnitude of this film. I plan to watch it often and many times. I talked to the director after a screening of the film at Eckerd College, and this exchange drove home the fact that while this film was about beauty and appreciation, it is also meant to keep us going. The film’s director Mark Kitchell, director of Berkeley in the 60s, is a gentle soul himself: available, soft spoken, very engaging, a peaceful warrior artist who’s intention is to keep us moving.
A FIERCE GREEN FIRE: The Battle for a Living Planet is the first big-picture exploration of the environmental movement – grassroots and global activism spanning fifty years from conservation to climate change. Directed and written by Mark Kitchell, Academy Award-nominated director of Berkeley in the Sixties, and narrated by Robert Redford, Ashley Judd, Van Jones, Isabel Allende, and Meryl Streep, it is a movie everyone should see.
Bob Bullard, an environmental justice advocate, closes the film on a universal note, saying, “There’s no Hispanic air. There’s no African-American air. There’s air! And if you breathe air—and most people I know do breathe air—then I would consider you an environmentalist.”
Each year, the Eckerd College Environmental Film Festival revives viewers with a week of stunningly beautiful and thought-provoking films. The whole festival creates a wave of energy which renews understanding. With the experience, one flows into a rounder, higher vibration. Thanks to Catherine Griggs and Nathan Andersen who always choose fresh, empowering, and breathtaking films.
All images via Fierce Green Fire