[Note: This review covers "Renewal" and "The Linguists" plus Q and A with the director of "Renewal" Marty Ostrow]
The film “Renewal” provides a quilt of eight activist stories. What makes “Renewal” such a bold show is who the activists are.
Catholics weave amongst Native American culture to protect land and water. Jews make the environment the core theme of a kids’ camp. Evangelicals exercise opposition to big coal stripping and polluting their Appalachian Mountains. A farmer finds a market and a kinship with Muslims who relish his organic farming. Buddhists tout recycled paper, be it toilet paper or paper stock in high profile magazines.
Make controversy out of such religiously based activism if you want. The film “Renewal” does not.
We are all beholding to the same air, the same water, the same precious resources of Earth. “Renewal” recognizes that people of faith represent a vast well of activism. It can connect the grass roots of community with the grass roots of politics. “Renewal” reminds us that what cradles us all is more fundamental than what divides us.
One of the things that make the Environmental Film Festival so impressive is its variety of stories and fresh perspectives. “The Linguists” is a film that sounds geeky and academic, but actually, it entices you with the passionate and adventurous quest of a couple of unique globetrotters.
Between the two of them, Gregory Anderson and David Harrison speak more than two dozen languages. They know that of the world’s 7000 languages, more than 6000 of them may go extinct before the end of the century.
Along with a chance spotlight on one of the most complicated numbering systems in the world or a language that medicine men teach their teenage sons so they can learn the family business, the linguists learn first hand about the legacy of conquered peoples and subverted cultures. They hear how speaking your own language can marginalize your identity amidst dominant culture.
“The Linguists” is an environmental action story that is fascinating even if the environmentalist dialect doesn’t speak to you.
- - - - - Q and A with "Renewal" director, Marty Ostrow - - - -
Excerpted from a discussion between film reviewer, Chuck Jaffee, and one of the directors of “Renewal,” Marty Ostrow (co-directed with Terry Kay Rockefeller):
Chuck Jaffee: What distinguishes your film is the religious tie in. Why is it important to express a commitment to environmental issues as a commitment from religious groups?
Marty Ostrow: Religious traditions speak to the deepest places that exist in human beings. Things like morality and ethics directly relate us all.
CJ: “Renewal” is positive and non-controversial and diverse. But how do you speak to suspicions and concerns many people have toward religious activism, especially religious activism with a political agenda?
MO: These issues are so large, so fundamental. There’s a possibility they can bring us together, to overcome divisiveness.
CJ: What was your biggest frustration in making “Renewal”?
MO: I guess it’s not always being convinced that the movement has enormous potential. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and Katrina got us to turn a corner, but there’s still sluggishness in the media and media feeds the divisiveness.
CJ: What was your biggest satisfaction in making “Renewal”?
MO: Doing research into what to do and what makes a movement, I discovered I was part of helping bring people together. I’d be interacting with two Catholic groups a few miles apart. They wouldn’t know what the other group was doing. When we told each group about the other, their eyes widened and they wanted to connect.
CJ: The interfaith aspects of “Renewal” add an extra level. Toward the end of the film, you highlight a group with chapters in dozens of states called “Interfaith Power and Light.” Do you think an organization like this represents splintered sensibilities from various faiths or is it more about some natural and mounting traction?
MO: They’re very realistically based. They know that spirituality ignites but that policy needs to be as important. They know that they’ve got to do more than motivate. They have to knock on the doors of Congress. They know they must be more than touchy feely. The have to be very practical. ]