By Gerard Ungerman
UPDATE: Gerard recently started a new project, find out more here: www.respectfulrevolution.org
I recently participated in a roundtable discussion (without a table) with Rahasya Poe, editor and publisher of the Lotus Guide. Our topic was “Spiritual Activism.” Writing an announcement on my www.GreenTransitionChico.org website, and then introducing Rahasya at this event, gave me an opportunity to rethink and articulate the philosophical and spiritual aspect of my motivations for carrying out my activist and documentary-making work during the past 15 years.
I have been a documentary filmmaker since 1995. Located for many years in New York, then Los Angeles and more briefly Vancouver, BC, I recently moved to Chico to be close to my beloved girlfriend. Here I found an extremely diverse and interesting community nestled in a part of the country that I revere. Moving to Chico actually seems to have furthered my creative inspiration. Through the years, I have mostly focused on human-rights and environmental issues. I have produced several films exposing the ugly business of war, including Hidden Wars of Desert Storm, Plan Colombia: Cashing-In on the Drug War Failure, and The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror.
The particular focus on exposing the manipulations behind warmongering came from my own experience as a young army officer in the late ’80s and early ’90s. At the time, I felt shocked and disgusted by what I saw as blatant lies about going to Kuwait to supposedly restore “freedom and democracy” in a country that never had it to begin with. Anyone with two cents’ worth of judgment was plainly aware that the West was stepping in to secure one of its foremost sources of petroleum. Why were we adding lies to the business of violence? I was soon to understand that in democracies, the for-profit war industry, and the international cohort of corrupt politicians in its pay, needed to wear masks of do-gooders to carry out their enterprise of calculated death and misery.
I like to call “WAR” an acronym for “Widening Access to Resources.” Wars are waged to grab energy and resources by brute force, whether we are talking about land, water, forests, slaves, and now, petroleum. It is the rapacious greed for more than we can produce or exchange that has kept humankind on the destructive path of war for longer than we can remember. Exposing both war-profiteering hypocrisy and the misery it causes has therefore been my core motivation to learn how to use a video camera and make documentary films.
Fast-forward 20 years later; many excellent films have been made to expose the not-so-hidden motives behind the war business. I no longer feel the need to repeat the same argument over and over again because if by now someone doesn’t understand why old people send young ones to kill and die overseas, it is because he or she just doesn’t want to know. I now want to reflect upon our demand for energy and resources to demonstrate that wanting too much is the same as pulling the trigger ourselves. I want to refocus my efforts on promoting behavioral changes.
With rising concern over the environmental devastation produced by modern hyperconsumerism, today many understand the need to change behaviors. There is no shortage of avenues for social and environmental action. A town such as Chico is a perfect example. Whether in the field of energy use, food, housing, transportation, waste management, or education, thousands here are joining a global effort to promote and carry out changes for the better. My next two films will document these efforts.
In the course of my current research, I became aware of the scope of the social and environmental work going on in Chico. However, I also came to realize how isolated and disconnected many of these dedicated activists were, even in the midst of a community barely 90,000 strong. Few people in Chico realize the impressive variety of social and environmental work being done simultaneously. Many learn of valuable events after the fact, or not at all. The result is that projects that could benefit from much wider support don’t and many people sink into despair and hopelessness in the face of a world ravaged by greed and exploitation.
Everyone who is active in all fields of social and environmental defense needs to feel and live a greater sense of interconnection with one another. We all need to know that we are not alone, that our efforts, however big or small, are not in vain. Being seen and being heard is inspiring and inspiration is vital. Love, caring, respect, and compassion do not happen in isolation. They all grow and are nurtured by interconnectedness. Being active contributes to this interconnectedness, and it can feed our spirit. Knowing others, knowing what they are doing, supporting them, being supported, all help us create a new local reality in concert with the many good deeds happening everywhere around the world.
This is why I decided several months ago to create a new website—www.GreenTransitionChico.org—with the help of friends technically more savvy than me (that’s an easy one !), namely Mojohito Richerson von Tchudi, Max Infeld, and Peter DiFalco. Many more are now helping with postings and multifaceted participation. Broken down into various categories, the site is meant to show all the great work being done in and around Chico and to inspire visitors into action. Visitors can discover who is doing what in such fields as food, water, energy, housing, transportation, education, or nature conservation…. They can post and read announcements, review events, or otherwise get in contact with one another. I have printed 25,000 business cards (on recycled paper) that many local students are helping me pass around (I do need more volunteers, by the way). My hope is that folks in every home in Chico will eventually have one of these cards stuck on the refrigerator and will use www.GreenTransitionChico.org as their source of information for what’s going on locally in regards to sustainability.
I believe activism is intrinsically spiritual if it is rooted in awareness of what is going on in the world and connected to the needs of one’s surrounding community. This belief has been motivating my work as a documentary filmmaker and now as a web host.
Independent journalist and documentary filmmaker Gerard Ungerman founded Free-Will Productions in New York in 1995. Ever since, his films have focused on human-rights and the environment. Determination and skills learnt along the way have allowed him to give high production value to low-budget projects and to bring international visibility to controversial stories that corporate news and entertainment would not touch.
Gerard at freewillprod com