"Everything’s Cool" will resonate with Parkites
Judith Helfand and Dan Gold say their documentary, "Everything’s Cool" would make a great double feature with former Vice President Al Gore’s movie, which is also about global warming.
But, unlike the widely released "Inconvenient Truth," their movie is not based on a Powerpoint presentation. It is about the filmmakers’ cross-country trip in a biodiesel van and their encounters with ordinary people trying to figure out whether the planet is in danger.
The film is in this year’s Sundance’s Documentary Competition and, coincidentally, features some familiar local scenery and faces.
In one scene, a group of Park City preschoolers complain about the mud on their sledding hill. In another, a Park City snowcat driver laments the effects of an unusually severe January thaw. Along the way, the filmmakers also interview some of the scientists and writers who first sounded the environmental alarm and they talk to the energy industry lobbyists hired to squelch those warnings.
From coast to coast, the filmmakers also talk to lots of people who are confused about the whole issue.
Helfand and Gold hope their film will erase that confusion by carefully exposing the motives behind efforts to discredit scientific proof of climate change.
They insist, too, their goal is to encourage a grassroots movement to do what their leaders have, so far, refused to do: acknowledge and address the effects of fossil fuels on the environment. In fact, one of the heroes of "Everythings Cool" is that Park City snowcat driver.
Sundance veterans, Helfand and Gold, who made the award-winning documentary "Blue Vinyl," were planning to make a movie about global warming long before Gore’s movie was released. But, Helfand says, they were having a hard time deciding where to start.
They found their hook in a hot tub in Park City.
According to Gold, while attending Sundance in 2003 and relaxing at their condo complex, they met a young New Zealander who was worried about making his rent that month because it had been too warm for the resorts to make snow.
"The irony that it was too warm to make fake snow was so weird to us. It really fit our style," said Helfand.
Gold explained, "It has been our challenge since the beginning to bring out the irony of the situation with humor, without undermining or making light of it. We don’t want to hit people over the head."
When they heard that Park City’s snowpack was threatened, they called New York and had their camera equipment FedEx-ed pronto.
Through the local network of snowmakers, they met John "Bish" Neuhauser, the head trail groomer at The Canyons. On a bumpy ride down the mountain in the middle of the night, Neuhauser pointed out an odd phenomenon moths were flying into the headlights, something "Bish" said usually only happened as the ski season was ending.
That year, though, it was happening in January.
He also confided to the filmmakers that he was interested in learning how to make biodiesel fuel. "I really wanted to run my car on vegetable oil," he said. His one-man quest to play a small part in reducing carbon emissions becomes a running theme in "Everything’s Cool."
Throughout the film, the camera returns to Neuhauser’s backyard efforts to cook up a batch of biodeisel fuel with oil scrounged from his favorite watering hole, the No Name Saloon on Park City’s Main Street.
Gold, a veteran cameraman from "Saturday Night Live" captures at once the humor in a bunch of guys using a kitchen blender to save the planet and their contagious optimism. When Neuhauser’s 1975 Mercedes putters off into the sunset on its first tank of french fry oil from the No Name Saloon, the directors hope audiences get the message that they can have a positive impact too.
A more sobering view of global warming comes from those who have been championing the cause from the beginning. Pulitzer Prize winning author Ross Gelbspan and Middlebury College professor Bill McKibben describe their frustration with the federal government and how difficult it has been for them to keep up the fight when it seems to have so little effect on public policy.
McKibben is especially cynical. He says too many people are under the misconception that the economy is more important than the environment.
"People think the economy is more real than the world .that is sad and it is a big mistake because the physical world is not dependent on the economy, the economy is dependent on a world that behaves in a predictable way," he says in the film
Gold admits that he and Helfand have struggled to keep their spirits up, too. "Our optimism has been deeply challenged in making this film. We have been working on this film for four and a half years and it has been very sobering. The problem is far greater than we thought," he said.
But, he adds, they do see hope in the growing number of grassroots efforts to bring global warming to light. To encourage more of those efforts, Helfand and Gold, with help from aerial artist John Quigley, are planning an event in Park City on Monday morning. They have enlisted students from McPolin Elementary and Treasure Mountain International School to stand outside in formation. Seen from a hot air balloon or a helicopter the kids will spell out a global warming message.
According to Quigley, who has organized about 75 of these events around the world, the activity gives people a way to participate in advocacy in their communities.
"It brings new people into the process and fosters cooperation which will be crucial in addressing global warming." The event will take place on a field between the two schools Monday at 9:00 a.m.
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Hotel occupancy in the Park City area during Sundance is projected to drop dramatically from a typical year as organizers shift the event online.