It’s Not Too Late to Undergo a Metamorphosis on Climate Change! An Interview

22 Jun

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Remaining Theatrical Dates

EDMONTON – June 22nd – Metro Cinema
VICTORIA – June 24th – Cinecenta
VANCOUVER – June 26th – Vancity Theatre

The art of film is not a lecture series, but rather, a term coined by film buffs to describe a cinematic experience. Velcrow Ripper is a well-respected filmmaker and activist whose past work speaks for itself. His most notable documentary is Scared Sacred, the first of a trilogy of films which examines hope against the backdrop of devastation. Whether that’s manmade with the bombing of Hiroshima or conspiracy in New York (9-11), his message of hope defines these works. Nova Ami was host, director, and writer of The Leading Edge on The Knowledge Network, a program which looked at technology and innovation. She also previously directed social issue documentaries that have aired on various broadcast networks including CBC’s Passionate Eye. These two are life partners and believe humanity has a future. Some folks think it’s too late to fix all that is wrong with this planet. But for these two, they believe there is another direction people can take to clean up the mess man made for itself.

The works they have created can be considered spiritual activism, where one of the tenets is to use nonviolent means to get a message across. “It’s a kind of activism that involves also thinking about how you create change in the world,” explained Ripper.
This pair’s latest project, Metamorphosis, looks at the global environmental crisis and shows how humanity can adapt, if not, make use of what’s out there. Instead of throwing it all away, the garbage can be reused in new creative ways. One great example is in how unused swimming pools can be remade into greenhouses. Some cities have rooftop gardens to mark a new kind of agricultural self-sustainability. This documentary is getting special screenings in Canada this month, and so far, the response is great.

The National Film Board of Canada is distributing this film, and it will no doubt hit streaming services after its theatrical tour. The opening visuals intrigued me, and had to ask what does it all mean? Parts of this work made me think of not only PIXAR’s film, Wall*E but also James Cameron’s Avatar. There were also a few literary works which popped to mind and had me wondering if these two were Romanticists in a previous life.

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Left to Right: Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper

Nova & Velcrow: When we were exploring the theme of metamorphosis, we decided to create a story arc which cannot be easily labelled or identified. It is very much linked to the cycle of a monarch butterfly. It begins with the metaphor of the caterpillar eating everything in sight and then going inward to a place of quietness where the transformation can happen. From there, we move into symbiosis. [Here is where we want to show] mutually enhancing relationships with each other and the environment.

How does the Greek figure of Proteus factor in?

VR: Proteus is a sea god who would only change when he was coerced into. He can assume many forms and that’s Robert Jay Lifton talking about him in the film. He wrote the book The Protean Self and he posits humanity’s cultural or psychological identity is going to change. We must change [to better ourselves]. It’s healthy and necessary. The myth of Proteus is woven through the film as a metaphor for this transformation.

Are there any connections with other mythical figures, namely Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It’s subtitled the Modern Prometheus for a reason. One interpretation of the work is in how it’s best not to challenge the natural order (i.e. creation). We can’t be that mad scientist (which we commonly see in cinematic interpretations). Nor can a demi-human steal fire from the heavens and hand it over to man. Within those flames is the secret in how to create and manipulate life.

VR: Lifton talks about the end of nature— something that goes beyond death. Climate change could see this as Frankenstein’s monster. It can completely get out of control and turn on us. Our film posits this metamorphosis can go either way. We could transform into having a symbiotic relationship with the planet or indeed have runaway climate change. It could become the beast that devours us all.

Do you think we can control it?

NA: We certainly have a choice in terms of how we deal with that and how we react. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We can either try to be proactive and change our lives—change our ways of being—to not harm the planet or we could give up and just go into some other state where we don’t acknowledge what’s happening or acknowledge what’s possible.

VR: Scientists mostly don’t think it’s too late but we’re approaching the point of what would be called runaway climate change, where the cats completely out of the bag. But when you examine the metaphor of somebody with cancer, at what point do you choose to give up? We personally choose hope. Although it’s a wise hope, it’s based on a commitment to doing everything we can to help to solve this massive state of emergency we’re in.

8_BoscoVerticale1_Milan_PhotoVelcrowRipper

One of the things that we talk about in the film is repurposing [the garbage that’s out there] so that it’s a Cradle to Cradle concept where we can move towards a society where we don’t throw anything away. That’s completely possible where everything stays in the cycle of use such as the earth ships which are built out of garbage, their houses built of garbage which is featured in the film …

NA: The same idea with the swimming pools where they’re turned into a self-sustaining ecosystem. So in terms of using something that is rather than now sucking up energy, it’s creating food.

Do you see your film connecting with classic works from literature? When I first heard of your project, I was reminded of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, about how from chaos comes order and the former is pervasive. It affects the lives of many a character in imperfect and pleasant ways. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius is a different work which explores spiritual well-being (i.e. connecting with Auset (Isis), a Mother Goddess figure when he completes his journey.

VR: There’s some connection to that (not consciously with us) but I think that that idea of transformation from the caterpillar to the winged creature means the ethical human is living a symbiotic life with the planet Earth.

The underwater statues that we see in this film, the works of Jason deCaires Taylor, has a cool Greco-Roman Atlantean vibe to it. What can you tell me about his installation art?

VR: He talks about how his sculptures transform from inert sculptures into a living, breathing coral reefs in our film. They’re sculptures reflecting moments of humanity in transition. The works are also metaphors for sea level rise. He also has some very dark themes going on as well. One sculpture called The Point of No Return depicts a whole bunch of people crossing through an arc. The meaning of the gateway should be obvious.

Art was a great way to do that, and the mythology and psychology of climate change, along with the emotional aspects, were something that hadn’t been explored. We wanted to help create a new narrative around climate change, that moved beyond the crisis phase.

NA: We also wanted to create a cinematic experience. Showing the work of artists is one way of highlighting these themes we want to consistently have throughout the film.

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How difficult was it to balance the artsy aspects to ensuring your statement is made?

NA: We didn’t want to include talking heads, which is something that we see in a lot of in documentaries. I thought our approach was freeing, personally. We wanted to offer a meditation on this issue. I think our creative approach helped us communicate the topic such that it would add to the conversation as opposed to something that we’ve heard before.

VR: Yeah, we didn’t want to do Climate Change 101. We assume that people have a certain understanding already. At the same time, our film offers a lot of pragmatic information.

This film talks about psychic numbing. What is that?

NA: Lifton is talking about how people are not taking in what’s happening around them. That is, you slip into a repressed mode where you don’t feel anything.

VR: The problem with psychic numbing (and all forms of repression) is that it doesn’t go away. It can lead to health problems, like anxiety. And so the catharsis phase of the metamorphosis is actually about recognizing these fears. One example is in how we may not have a future [to look forward to.] To get through the crisis is tough. We need to work these problems out. We need to find solutions.

This film uses a lot of watery imagery. What was the intention behind this focus, and is there a deeper meaning?

VR: Water is woven through the film because water is life. Creation started from it. We introduced the myth of Proteus at the start because he is the [Old Man of the] Sea, a temperamental figure. Because climate change is having a huge impact on water in many ways, we need to pay attention. It’s causing droughts (which is the lack of water) and it’s causing sea level rise (which is too much water).

In closing, what would you like to say to our readers?

NA & VR: We hope that people will come and experience the film in a theatre because that was how we meant it to be seen. We also have a beautiful soundtrack composed by James Mark Stuart to guide audiences on the journey. Velcro also added to the sound design.

We also want viewers to sit with the idea that through crisis, an opportunity for transformation can happen. We have a choice as to how that can unfold, and we hope that people will consider channelling their energy into action, a solution.

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