John de Graaf directed the film “Stewart Udall: The Politics of Beauty.” Instead of a review of de Graaf’s fine documentary, here’s most of an interview with him. It lends good perspective to the film, the filmmaker, and to the Wild & Scenic Film Festival:
Chuck Jaffee: How did you find yourself wanting to make a film about Stewart Udall?
John de Graaf: I first interviewed him in 1988. His humility and broad vision impressed me. In 2020, I read he would have been 100. Finding no film about him, I read bios. I contacted the biographers and Udall's family. I found he was more amazing and visionary than I had thought. He’s relevant to all the big issues today--racial and environmental justice, world peace, climate change, land stewardship, biodiversity….
CJ: To understand United States history, how fundamental is it knowing Stewart Udall?
JdG: It's fundamental to understanding our environmental progress at the national level in the 60s and early 70s. Udall was the pre-eminent public figure in this. Much, if not most, of our most essential environmental legislation was made possible by Udall's vision and persistence. The film also shows his role in combatting racism in the Jim Crow era.
CJ: The film shows you had great access to Stewart Udall’s family. Do you see his life of service to the USA as an expression of his service to his family?
JdG: Well, yes, public service has been a theme in the Udall family, starting with his father. His kids have all carried on the work. In the West, the name Udall is almost synonymous with public service. It’s an amazing family. I’m honored to know many of them.
CJ: Udall got rolling during the environmentalist stir associated with Rachel Carson (“Silent Spring”) and the political stir of the Civil Rights movement. Did he ride the momentum of the times or did he fuel that momentum?
JdG: Both. Udall's work and his seminal book, “The Quiet Crisis,” stirred much of the activity, but he also rode a wave of reformism. He didn't shy from controversy or fear the powerful. Indeed, he introduced Rachel Carson to John F. Kennedy and supported her while the big companies were at her throat.
CJ: Stewart Udall was instrumental in the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. What do you think he might have said to an audience at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival?
JdG: I think he’d congratulate SYRCL for its successful fight to save the Yuba. He'd remind them not to be cynical or discouraged. Progress, however slow, has happened and will continue. He'd say in his Western drawl: "Go get 'em!"
CJ: You’re a filmmaker with, what, 8 films shown at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival over the years .... You even have the John de Graaf Environmental Filmmaking Award named after you. What would you say to an audience at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival?
JdG: I always say it's my favorite environmental film festival. It absolutely inspires activism, and the film selection is first-rate. Stewart Udall would have loved this festival!