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Media That Won't Move Mountains

MountainfilmSometimes the social change goal isn't to move mountains, it's to stop moving mountains. No one knows this better than Maria Gunnoe, West Virginia resident and passionate advocate against mountaintop removal for coal mining. Gunnoe's presentation kicked off the Awareness Into Action Moving Mountains Symposium at the 2011 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival

This year's Symposium gets to the heart of what the Center believes social media is about. It's answering the question of social documentary audiences on the edges of their seats: "What do we do now?" What many social change agents already understand is that a singular action can be the catalyst.

Gunnoe told the Symposium audience the emotionally wrought story of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coaltion's (OVEC) battle to save the town and surrounding lands of Twilight, West Virginia. Stunning images showed how land mountains have been stripped bare, leaving only the tiniest patches of land holding historic cemeteries, forever marooned from the communities. MC for the day, Tom Shadyac, said "It's crazy that we honor our dead but we don't honor our living." Gunnoe agreed, pointing out that without a safe clean environment to live in, an education doesn't help children much.

Learn more about the efforts of Gunnoe and many other passionate community members through The Last Mountain.

Mountainfilm goers are not the type to sit back. Audience member Rick of this tight-knit community stood up to put money in a hat in front of the 500 strong room. The hat then went across every row and presented Gunnoe with a bag of cash to put toward the $150,000 needed to purchase land to save Twilight and provide a space for OVEC to organize.

Call to action: Provide support for OVEC.

Shadyac, who spoke this spring at AU after screening his documentary I Am, provided the essential common thread for the diversity of Symposium presentations. The common thread, that social documentary film has the potential to harness, is a realization of interconnectedness. Mountaintop removal in West Virginia is mountaintop removal for Colorado.

Wade Davis, enthno-botanist, prolific writer and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence, went on to speak about the threat to a mountain in his own backyard. He and a whole host of conservation photographers invested their own time and money to document the lands of the Sacred Headwaters in British Columbia, to prevent the likes of Royal Dutch Shell and Imperial Metals from destroying the sacred mountain lands. Through a book laden with powerful images and a robust website, Davis and a group from the International League of Conservation Photographers plan to prevent the metals excavators from ever getting started. As Davis said, it's like someone drilling for oil in the Sistine Chapel.

Call to action: Buy the book en masse to send a powerful public message.

Telluride Mountainfilm is a space worth paying attention to when it comes to strategies for socially engaged media. Gunnoe and Davis are just two of countless, even radical, personalities who are leveraging the mediums of film, photography, print, graphics, along with outreach and education, to send powerful messages.

Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis of King Corn fame have ignited a movement to change the eating habits of America's children through their latest film Truck Farm. Beyond the film, they have enabled a Food Corps national service program that will send 50 members across the country to enact change, with seed funding from Americorps.

Call to action: Grow for it.

Tim DeChristopher is taking change-making to a level that provacatively inspires action. DeChristopher is facing a prison sentence for actions that saved public lands from drilling. According to DeChristopher, what stands in the way of real change is  STUFF. In conversation with Shadyac, he pointed out that we tend to have too much to lose, "that's why rich people make bad activists."  Also when we spend so much time indoors, where we take up so much space, we think we are bigger than we are. Mountainfilm is screening the rough cut of DeChristopher's Bidder 70 without knowing the next time he'll be able to return to the festival.

Call to action: Let go of stuff.

M. Sanjayan from the Nature Conservancy gave an impassioned talk about the human response to extinction: too little too late. But there's hope. There are still places on earth where humanity and nature, and humanity as part of nature, have sustained life without known extinction. Sanjayan urges us to reframe the debate, consider how we alienate corporations, poor people and youth from the conversation.

Call to action: Rethink how we engage with youth and technology.

BeehiveThe Beehive Collective tells stories through graphics. Intricately detailed imagery, created through collaborative art, breaks down complex concepts into visuals. Beehive is challenging the clip-art concept of branding for social change, demonstrating how complexity can still promote engagement.

Call to action: Take the art of out the gallery space and into public space.

Jim Balog's stunning imagery has documented the dramatic effect of climate change in remote places--gracing the cover of National Geographic and in documentary film through NOVA.

Call to action: Use images to penetrate the barriers of illusion.

Photographer Aaron Huey had dedicated the last several years to documenting the state of life on the Pine Ridge Reservation for the Lakota American Indians. Reduced to prisoners of war, the result of violent and aggressive U.S. policy toward Indian lands dating back to the mid-19th century, the Lakota never stopped battling for their rights.

Call to action: Volunteer in the campaign to honor the treaties of Fort Laramie.


This list of calls to action is just a sampling of the dialogue happening at Mountainfilm. Follow the conversation at #mtnfilm on Twitter.

Will you answer the call?