Interview With Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee on His Latest Documentary About the Personal Side of Environmental Activism

Photo Credit:  Still From Elemental

As a blog writer for ENN I write articles hoping to raise the awareness of our readers of the environmental issues that impact their daily lives and to then inspire them to take action.  From experience I know that being aware of environmental injustice and taking action towards fixing those injustices are two separate things. It seems to take a personal connection with nature and inner strength that I can’t always seem to express or inspire effectively.

I recently got the chance to interview Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, the co-director, producer, and co-composer of the documentary Elemental, which follows 3 diverse environmental activists from around the world. The film takes a personal look at its protagonist’s inspirations and the struggles they encounter on their journeys.  Besides his involvement in Elemental, Vaughan-Lee is also the founder of the Global Oneness Project, an online magazine that explores the connectivity between culture, ecology, and beauty through film, photography, and essays.

ENN: In your movie Elemental, the three protagonists choose very different paths to activism yet they all share a similar passion for their causes. Besides a strong passion for cause what do you think are factors that make an activist successful?

E-VL: I think that perseverance is probably the key to success. Because all activists, regardless of the different kind of obstacles they are trying to overcome or the issues they are working on, they are going to require a lot of work and they are going to have to overcome many obstacles. You have to not just have passion for your cause but I think perseverance and a will to keep going in the face of tremendous adversity … I think leadership is probably an important characteristic. All of our subjects had that … (Also) A deep emotional connection that is more than just a reaction based on anger and frustration…(Anger and frustration) can work in the short term but doesn’t always necessarily work (in the long term).

ENN: Environmental activism sometimes gets a bad rap. Did making Elemental change any of your opinions of environmental activism or environmental activists?

EV-L: I think there are many ways that people are activists and the problem is the media brand(s) activists as people who are on the fringes of society. (People) who gather in street protests, who break windows or put up big banners on the side of buildings. (People) that are anti-capitalist and anti American and anti patriotic.  And I don’t think that’s true. There are activists that definitely fit that stereotype but there are many activists who are moms with 3 kids who drive minivans…It’s just in my opinion, a branding that people have bought into of what a typical activist is like.

Jay (Harman) in our film is not a typical activist.  He drives a Honda truck with a big engine. He lives in pretty large houses and he is not the guy out there on the picket line with a bandanna over his mouth during a WTO. He’s a guy who’s thinking about things and his activism comes out in a different way. I think there are a million ways that people can be activists and not all of them are in that stereotype.

ENN: What made you decide to make Elemental?

EV-L:I am obviously very passionate about environmental issues. This film does not hide our agenda as filmmakers and we were interested in telling a story that explored the deep connection we all have with the natural world… Not through fact seekers and information being delivered by talking heads and experts. But to do it through human story, grounded in emotion, following a narrative of hope. It came from a desire to find an effective way to share an important philosophical idea I believe in.

ENN: Are there any environmental issues that you have a passion for? Or one that you wish received more attention?

EV-L: I think I wish they all had more attention… I’m a surfer so I spend a lot of time in the water so I am specifically concerned about what’s happening to our coastal lines, what’s happening to our water quality, and how that’s affecting our beaches, how it’s affecting marine mammal life. I wish more was being done about that. But in general I wish there was more attention and more being done about all these (environmental) issues because they are so connected. They are so fundamental to our way of life that we need radical overhaul in the way we address them and the amount of time and resources and energy that is put into trying to address them.

ENN: Let me change the subject. The cinematography in Elemental was poignant yet beautiful. What kind of advice would you give to an amateur (I’m referring to myself and the video I posted in last week’s blog on cicadas) trying to document nature?

EV-L: Nature takes time to document. That’s something I found over doing photography for many years for Elemental and other projects. If you take more time you are going to get a better end result. With nature you have to wait for the right light, you have to wait for the right sheen to make itself known.  The clouds… Whether you’re waiting for wildlife.

I think if you’re going to be spending time in nature, you need to have patience, you need to slow down. You need to be willing to spend a lot of time in nature. For Elemental we spent many, many, many days, (and) weeks over the course of several years shooting imagery. Some that never made it into the film.

To Watch the Trailer for Elemental Visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDNz3oFjDhM

To Rent or Buy Elemental Visit: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/elemental/id643536264?Is=1


by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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