Lights, Camera, Action & Storytelling

Fighting the "squirrel syndrome"

One of the daily struggles we all have is how to spread the environmental message in a way that inspires and galvanizes support.

SFGFF_Panel_Jonathan_Fong.jpegAt the SF Green Film Festival panel Lights, Camera, Action & Storytelling, Mark Decena, Kontent Films, introduced us to the "squirrel syndrome".

If you've seen the Disney movie "Up", you’ll remember the attentive dog become easily distracted at the sight of a squirrel.

We've all experienced this telling an environmental story. And this is exactly what we need to overcome if we're going to get that connection with a new audience. 

The solution? Our filmmakers agreed: first it was about shaping a well-told, personal story.

Kevin White, currently working on a documentary on the Rim Fire, talked about using characters to get beyond the choir.  

He explained: "you need to give them a story, that has some kind of human trait that everyone can relate to…  you need some positive stories, where they are all coming together collaborating to come up with solutions towards recovery."

Mark built on this theme "people connect if they have empathy with the characters, and humor is the gateway to empathy... Use everything you have to get the connection."

"Distribution takes a team, it takes a village"

But alongside that you also need a community of support – a village, as Kevin said - to get the film seen widely.

Leah saw this first hand when working on the documentary Come Hell or High Water (2014 SFGFF Green Tenacity Award Winner) and working with the community media project Bridge the Gulf.

She told us that after Katrina many communities faced total reconstruction: "They felt overlooked by mainstream media, Bridge the Gulf built a base for the film (Come Hell or High Water) and connection on the Gulf."

Magic of storytelling.

With environmental stories continuing to struggle for mainstream coverage, the role of documentary filmmakers to inspire people to action is even more important. 

These environmental filmmakers see their roles as more than movie-making, it's movement building.

 * Photo credit: Jonathan Fong, @jfongtography


The Panelists

Rachel Caplan, Founder & CEO, SF Green Film Festival

Mark Decena, Founder, Kontent Films; writer/director, Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the New West. See new film How We Live at the 2015 Green Film Festival.

Leah Mahan, producer/director, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek.

Kevin White, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Filmmakers' Collaborative SF. See new film The Fire Next Time (work-in-progress) at the 2015 Green Film Festival.