Everythings (not so) cool

April 20, 2007

Following an introduction at this years Sundance Film Festival, activist-director Judith Helfand premiered her new film, Everythings Cool, to the Brandeis community Tuesday night. The documentary is an exploration of the past three-and-a-half years of environmental action and the dramatic shift in public opinion about global warming since 2003.

Helfand has been an annual guest of the Brandeis Environmental Studies department and has usually discussed either of her other major films, the classic Blue Vinyl, a discussion of the chemical consequences of the vinyl industry on human workers and the environment;

and Healthy Baby Girl, a film documenting Helfands personal struggle with prenatal DES poisoning. Everythings Cool is a natural expansion of Helfands usual themes, though it involves no direct connection with her personal life. This time she has collaborated with director and cinematographer Daniel B. Gold, whose stylish and interesting cinematography lends a new depth to the film.

Helfand described her movie as a toxic comedy;

indeed, that is the name of one of the production companies behind the film;

and the film defines the genre, paralleling black comedy with the twist of being mostly true and documentary. The movies strongest point lies in Helfands use of character as much as in her use of fact and documentary style. The movie is about messengers struggling to get the word out and a moment in time where we documented the shift– all of the sudden people were responding in a different way. The film is not so much an explanation as it is an exploration of various environmental stories, the most significant being what Helfand exposes as the artificial debate about global warming.

Helfand explores several avenues of the press, using Boston Globe-career journalist Ross Gelbspan and his government counterpart, former Climate Change Science Program and U.S. Global Change Research Program head Rick Piltz to present two parts of the evolution of the public perspective on global warming. Gelbspan discusses the ten-plus years he spent examining global warming after his retirement from the media. Piltz puts the evidence he eventually sent to the New York Times revealing the depths of the Bush administration-appointee Phil Cooneys editing of scientific reports ultimately buried despite the evidence within them proving the existence of global warming. Helfand effectively characterizes the other team, paid for by the oil industry, using clips from the national media and from C-SPAN footage.

The film emphasizes this and other environmental achievements during 2004 and 2005, exposing the false nature of the global warming debateand the apparent fact that there is no such debate within the scientific community except for that funded by ExxonMobil and various related think tanksas well as the fundamental failings in the media and within the environmental-activist culture to perpetuate the facts and consequences of global warming to the public. Gelbspan commented on this after the film, saying that the film achieved some of its goals: Some messages didnt get out, but thats not the point. The films about showing how various messages did get out.

One of those messages, that there is a clear link between the debate on climate change and the federal government elicited comment from Kaila Schwartz 08, [The movie presented] an interesting idea of government conspiracy and how clearly there was onefor a society so dependent on information and information technologyand how some stuff so useful can be at the same time so threatening.

Gelbspan is at the films beginning so discouraged by the response to his decades efforts in confronting global warming that he is retiring from the field;

he leaps back into action with Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster that perversely saves his hope with its disillusionment for public awareness and some national attempt at solving the issue of global warming. The media frenzy that eventually accepts the truths of global warming effectively erodes some of Gelbspans paralyzing cynicism pervasive throughout his time on camera, however in person he remained hopelessly cynical. We have to consider human change versus natures timetable. We have to work up the courage to look reality in the eye, said Gelbspan.

Prof. Tim Rose (CHEM) criticized the films message as it related to the future of necessary change, stating that he wasnt on the [global warming] bandwagon until 2000, but that [in the film] there isnt enough exploration of the futurewe have to get movies like this with solutions. I have no doubt well solve the scientific problems.

Hefland said of her movie, The biggest flaw of this movie is that there is no global messenger of color. The people hurt worst [in Katrina, in the heat wave in Chicago two summers ago] have no infrastructure. Thats my next movie.

Editors Note: See an interview with Helfand and Gold online at: http://tinyurl.com/247b6q. The film should be released September 23, to coincide with the last day of summer and Step it Up day (www.stepitup.org).

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