Friday, June 19, 2020

The Long Shadow: A Community Discussion

Join Sustainable Tucson for a special Juneteenth community discussion:

Watch the movie The Long Shadow, a documentary by Frances Causey. The filmmakers have made the movie available to Sustainable Tucson to view for FREE from Monday, June 15th through Sunday, June 21st at

Join us for a discussion about the film with the filmmaker Frances Causey and Social Justice Advocate Ron Austin on Juneteenth (Friday, June 19th) at 6pm MST. The discussion will be online at

"Of all the divisions in America, none is as insidious and destructive as racism. In this powerful documentary, the filmmakers, both privileged daughters of the South, who were haunted by their families slave owning pasts, passionately seek the hidden truth and the untold stories of how America—guided by the South’s powerful political influence—steadily, deliberately and at times secretly, established white privilege in our institutions, laws, culture and economy."

“Shadow is a gripping personalized history lesson, with Causey covering salient points, including how economics drove the despicable trading of humans. Her of-the-moment feature couldn’t be more necessary.” – Randy Myers, Mercury News

Causey and her team passionately seek the hidden truth and the untold stories that reveal how the sins of yesterday feed modern prejudice, which burns undiminished despite our seeming progress. From the moment of America’s birth, slavery was embedded in institutions, laws, and the economy, and yet even as slavery ended, racism survived like “an infection.” By telling individual stories—of free blacks in Canada; of a modern, racially motivated shooting—Causey movingly personalizes the costs and the stakes of continued inaction. “The past is never dead,” William Faulkner once said, and this echoes one scholar’s warning: “We’re still fighting the Civil War, and the South is winning.” (Dir. by Frances Causey, 2017, USA, 91 mins., Not Rated)

This event addresses Sustainable Development Goals 10, Reduce inequality within and among countries, and 16, Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

More information about the film can be found at

Another social justice doc by Frances: Ours is the Land

For more on Sustainable Tucson, go to:

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Planet of the Humans: Earth Day Clarion Call?

A Guest Review by
Dan Stormont

Spoiler alert: I am going to analyze the major points made in this latest film from documentary filmmaker Jeff Gibbs and executive producer Michael Moore. I am a firm believer that you should never take someone else's opinion over the source material, so - if you have an hour and forty-one minutes to spare (and it's still playing for free on YouTube) - I would suggest you watch the movie yourself and then return here to see what I have to say about it.

Back already? Great! Let's get started. 

To begin with, I should say that I have found Michael Moore to be an entertaining filmmaker, but I wouldn't go so far as to say he is an honest filmmaker. Michael loves the sound bite clip and the "gotcha" moments when he catches one of his victims - excuse me, interviewees - off-guard. He does have a skill at highlighting issues in a visceral, human manner that tends to make you think, laugh, or angry, but he is also continually manipulating you toward the conclusion he wants you to draw, rather than asking a question, presenting supporting evidence, and letting you draw your own conclusion. I am probably more forgiving of his style because I often agree with him, but even when I have agreed, I have been irritated by those parts of the film where I know he is being dishonest - or, at the very least, when he is oversimplifying a complex and nuanced issue. It's obvious that Jeff Gibbs has learned a great deal from his mentor.

The movie starts out with Jeff Gibbs recounting his environmental bona fides: He has been an environmentalist since he was a young boy, back when the first Earth Day was celebrated - a self-proclaimed "tree hugger." He moved into a log cabin with solar panels and a wood-burning stove and reported on environmental issues for a number of environmental magazines and papers. He even had run-ins with security guards at a number of toxic industrial plants while trying to get the inside story on their environmental practices.

Gibbs then shows a clip from a 1958 television movie, produced by Frank Capra, titled The Unchained Goddess in which "Dr. Research," played by Dr. Frank Baxter (an English professor), explains to "Mr. Fiction Writer," played by Richard Carlson (actor and director), that carbon dioxide emissions from our industrial society could cause warming of the planet, leading to the melting of the polar ice and ocean level rise that could submerge much of the southeastern United States. Gibbs points out that we have known about the potential impacts of greenhouse gasses since at least the time of that 1958 film. (Actually, we've known it since Eunice Foote first presented a scientific paper about the heat trapping properties of carbon dioxide and potential impacts on Earth's atmosphere in 1856!) He then goes on to ask a very reasonable question: If we've known about the problem for such a long time and the environmental movement has been working toward solutions since at least the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, why haven't we made more progress? A very good question! At this point, I'm ready for some good insights.
Unfortunately, Jeff Gibbs never provides those insights or answers the question. The rest of the film becomes hyper-focused on "green energy" as the silver bullet of the environmental movement. For Gibbs, environmentalists are limited by the single-minded pursuit of green energy - ignoring many other aspects of dealing with climate change and potential side effects. Contrary to Gibbs' assertion, the United Nations has identified seventeen Sustainable Development Goals that need to be achieved if we are going to create a sustainable, equitable, and just world for us all. Only one of those goals is "Affordable and Clean Energy" (SDG #7, if you were curious). In fact, only one of those goals addresses "Climate Action" (SDG 13). The modern environmental movement recognizes that dealing with the climate crisis will require addressing all aspects of economic, social, and environmental justice to be successful. For Gibbs, it's all just about energy.

We start our green energy road trip when Gibbs goes to an Earth Day festival that claims to be solar powered (at some unidentified time in the past). Everything is going great until it starts to rain. Gibbs heads backstage to find one of the electricians firing up a biodiesel generator. Oh-oh! Solar doesn't work when it's cloudy! Even worse, even the generator's not enough, so they have to flip the breakers to feed in some utility power. Yikes! Total solar fail!

I'm going to take the liberty of skipping ahead in the movie to continue talking about Gibbs on solar energy. In this part of the movie, he jumps around to segments about wind power and electric vehicles, but I'm going to address solar, wind, and EVs one at a time, if you'll indulge me. We next see a solar installation when Gibbs searches out the football field-sized Lansing Water and Light solar demonstration site down the street from the GM plant where they build the Chevy Volt (more about that in a bit). He happens to get there just as a power company rep is giving a tour and showing off the flexible solar cells manufactured right there in Michigan. As Gibbs starts questioning the power company rep, their guide admits that the efficiency of the installed solar cells is 8% and that the whole array could really only power 10 homes during peak hours. Oh no! Another solar fail! Next, we're off to a trade show to talk to a salesman about the lifespan of a solar panel. "Well, some last for only 10 years." 10 years! Imagine the waste!

Now it's time for Gibbs to introduce Ozzie Zehner, Author of Green Illusions. The film neglects to mention that Ozzie is also one of the producers of Planet of the Humans or that he has penned a long series of articles critical of everything from LED light bulbs to solar panels. The article he is best known for was an IEEE Spectrum article in July 2013 called "Unclean at any Speed" in which he asserts that electric vehicles are more damaging to the environment than any fossil-fueled vehicle.  The basis of his argument, which gets repeated multiple times in the movie, is that the sunk carbon costs in manufacturing EVs (like the Chevy Volt) and recharging from fossil-fueled utilities makes them more damaging than conventional vehicles. Unsurprisingly, this article drew a near-record number of rebuttals from engineers who pointed out the numerous logical errors and distortions of fact in his article. (By the way, Ozzie, nice product placement with your book in the introductory shot!) Ozzie will be our guide to the environmental evils of the manufacture of green technologies: the rare earth metals that go into the magnets in motors, the aluminum in electric vehicle chassis, the toxic materials in the batteries that power electric vehicles, the carbon impact of concrete bases for wind turbines, the energy that goes into the steel for their supports, the environmental costs of manufacturing the metals in the generators, and - of course - the quartz and coal that goes into the glass for photovoltaic panels. Lots of quartz mined by crying children in pit mines in third world countries and lots and lots of coal. This is followed by a tour of 500 year old yucca being shredded to build solar farms and "mountain top removal" in Vermont to install wind turbines, followed by scenes of the waste left behind by decommissioned and abandoned solar and wind generation facilities.

At this point, I should mention that there is a lot I could agree with Gibbs and Zehner about. I don't think utility scale renewable energy plants are a good idea. They take up large swaths of land that could be more productively used (or kept as natural spaces) and any benefits of centralized power generation tend to be offset by power transmission losses and grid complexity. They are a great deal for utilities, who want to make sure that the profits from the rate payers keep coming in, regardless of how the electricity is generated, but aren't as good for the communities they serve. Personally, I also share Zehner's distaste for electric vehicles - not because I think they have a bigger carbon footprint, there is ample evidence that is not the case - but because it means maintaining the infrastructure and sprawl we've built to accommodate the more than 270 million automobiles in the US alone. Like Zehner has stated in many of his articles, I would rather see an emphasis on walkable cities and alternative transit modes than "clean" cars.

Unfortunately, the producers of this film decided to take a sensationalist approach to discussing potential issues with solar, wind, and electric vehicles. In fact, more than just sensationalist, they were intentionally deceptive. The solar panels with 8% efficiency? They were obviously prototypes being used in a demonstration site many years ago. 8% is about the lowest efficiency possible for a photovoltaic cell. Typical commercial PV panels have efficiencies in the range of 18-24%, while very high-efficiency panels have been built with up to 44% efficiency. The average lifespan of a solar panel is estimated at 25-30 years, not 10 years. (I can't imagine how cheap a panel would have to be to only last 10 years.) Even after the estimated lifespan, a panel doesn't stop working (generally), it has just lost enough efficiency that it can no longer provide its rated output. You could keep the panel in service and add additional panels to make up for the lost output or move it to a location where the lower output would be acceptable (perhaps from the main house to a shed, for example). So, the filmmakers cherry-picked the two worst case examples and presented them as though they were typical. A pattern that really does define their approach in this movie.

The last half of the movie was dedicated to intertwining two topics: biomass power generation and the economic corruption of the leading environmental leaders and organizations in the world. Once again, I completely agree with the assertion that biomass power generation isn't really a "green technology." Far too often, biomass means either burning virgin wood or burning garbage. Combustion always releases undesirable emissions, whether carbon dioxide, methane, chemicals, or particulate matter. Far too often, garbage incinerators get pressed into service as power generators, with predictable results of toxins in the air and toxic ash by-products.

So how did a premise that's pretty hard to argue with get used as proof that the environmental movement is corrupt and serving only to line the pockets of the leaders of the movement? Why by interspersing decades-old clips of environmental leaders (like Bill McKibben of promoting biomass power generation, of course! The state-level Sierra Club representative Gibbs cornered at the bottom of the stairs couldn't give an answer on the spot about what the Sierra Club's position was on biomass...must be hiding something. Van Jones wasn't even sure what biomass was...definitely hiding something. 

And it gets worse. These environmentalists form partnerships with business people. Did you know that Al Gore sold Current TV to Al Jazeera...and they're operated by Kuwait...and Kuwait is an oil-producing nation? Guess he should have sold it to an American company. After all, it's not like we're the top oil-producing nation in the world or anything. And some of these organizations were "promoting" green investment funds that had some not-so-green looking company names in their portfolios. Proof positive that the Sierra Club, NRDC,, and the Nature Conservancy are all in the bankers' pockets. (Except Bill McKibben of, as just one example, has stated that they have never promoted any green investment fund.)

Now, don't get me wrong. There are plenty of times I find myself cussing at some of the big name environmental groups. They're not perfect. Neither are their leaders. (Look at the sponsors for the 2015 Earth Day celebration above - definitely some green-washing happening there!) But the arguments put forward by Gibbs are classic examples of ad hominem fallacies (dismissing the correctness of their positions based on their personal weaknesses).

Michael Moore described this movie as a "wakeup call" for the environmental movement. I wish it had been. The environmental movement could use a critical examination to identify areas where it has moved too slowly, veered off the optimal path, and fragmented into a loose collection of interest groups. This movie could have been a necessary critique to refocus and energize the movement. Instead, by the end of the movie, I really didn't even know what point Gibbs was trying to make, except to advance Zehner's faulty argument that "green technologies" are even more harmful than the status quo, so we should just continue to burn fossil fuels and stop wasting time with renewables. Gibbs also wrapped up with the astute observation that we aren't going to find a technological silver bullet to solve the climate crisis, but that we need to change our economic system, our consumption patterns, and reduce the population of Earth. Again, all very good points, but presented in such a defeating and negative way that no one can walk away from this movie anything other than depressed and demotivated. Maybe that's his plan: if enough people feel hopeless after watching this movie, they'll act on their own to reduce the human population.

Our guest reviewer, Dan Stormont, is an engineer, educator, and activist, living in Tucson. He is currently the President of Sustainable Tucson and the Captain of Code for Tucson, the local brigade of Code for America. Dan is also a docent with Watershed Management Group. The opinions expressed in this review are his own and not the express positions of any of the organizations he is affiliated with.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

No! (That Isn't Recyclable) music video

First dance practice for Recycling Video
At Sustainable Tucson's November meeting "Recycling and Beyond", Sherri Ludlam, Environmental Scientist in the Department of Environmental and General Services, informed us that China would no longer be accepting all of our dirty recycling because of the contamination.

plastic bags caught in the rollers of the recycling machine
Contamination is all the trash that doesn't belong in recycling - including plastic bags that jam up the machines. That contamination is costing the company contracted to do our recycling truck loads of money. Tucsonans put everything from dirty diapers to dead cats to Saguaros in our recycling cans. Sherri reminded us that there are actually people who sort through all that gross trash. On behalf of those workers, she asked that we don't throw anything in the recycling can that we wouldn't want to find.

All that contamination is making cost it prohibitive to run our recycling program. So the city has decided to cut back our recycling pickups to twice a month and may raise our fees. Some municipalities, like Sierra Vista, have dropped their recycling programs all together!

Spurred on by the threat to our beloved recycling program, some of us formed a Zero Plastic Waste team. Our first step was drafting a blog. "Lessons from the Recycling Queen." Then we produced a music video parody of Megan Trainer's song, "No" - that teaches Tucsonans what NOT to recycle.  Alex Kosmider, of Zero Waste Tucson, rewrote the lyrics and recorded a practice tape:

Plastic bags? No
Crushed cans? no
That pizza box? no
You need to let it go
You need to let it go

In the trash it goes. 
Nah to the ah to the, no, no, no

Here's a peek at our rehearsal process...

We started by learning Alex's song...

Our costumer Kasey (on the right) gets familiar with the lyrics. 
Singing rehearsal

Each of the singers recorded their part on the audio track....

Katie Popiel, of Musical Mayhem fame, taught this group of mostly middle-aged women and mothers her choreography. You rock, Katie! 

Break time! Walking the talk. No plastic bottles here! 

Next stop our shoot at Recyclo! 

Go, Team Recycle! 

Primary footage was shot on June 22 - 23, 2019. Thanks to Recyco Inc. and The Screening Room for the great locations!

No! (That Isn't Recyclable) had a sold-out premiere at the Screening Room on August 13, 2019.  It's now live on Sustainable Tucson's Youtube channel! 

In an effort to get the message out to more people, we are conducting a fun dance challenge! 

Our beloved choreographer Katie has put together a series of short dance lessons. The first one is super easy, and they get progressively harder.  

Dance lesson 1: Easy smeazy dance lesson with Katie!

Dance lesson 2.  You can do this! 

Dance lesson 3: Step up your game!

Dance lesson 4: For those of you who want a challenge!

DANCE CHALLENGE: Using your cell phone record yourself  or family members dancing with the Recycling Video and post it on social media!

I just danced the easiest steps from the first two lessons and posted them on my f.b. page and facebook stories. The post (below) created a spirited conversation about our recycling program.

Be sure to include a link to our video:

#recyclingdance #recyclingdancechallenge

Not a dancer? That's alright, you can help out by sharing the video with your peeps on social media!

Or simply read up on Tucson's recycling rules and share!

Lessons from our Recycling Queen

Monday, November 13, 2017

Frances Causey's THE LONG SHADOW screens at the Loft Film Fest

In 2015, I interviewed Frances Causey for Documentarians: Our Last Refuge for the Truth. Since then I have watched Frances use her documentary Ours is The Land to fight the Rosemont Mine. (Watch the 17 minute doc here.) And Sunday I was thrilled to see her powerful documentary The Long Shadow at the Loft Film Festival.

Of all the divisions in America, none is as insidious and tenacious as racism. In this powerful documentary, director Frances Causey investigates the roots of our current racial conflicts. Causey and Long Shadow producer Sally Holst, both daughters of the South, were raised with a romanticized vision of America’s past. Causey and Holst made the film after reflecting on how haunted they are by the truth of slavery’s legacy in their own histories.

“Shadow is a gripping personalized history lesson, with Causey covering salient points, including how economics drove the despicable trading of humans. Her of-the-moment feature couldn’t be more necessary.” – Randy Myers, Mercury News

Causey and her team passionately seek the hidden truth and the untold stories that reveal how the sins of yesterday feed modern prejudice, which burns undiminished despite our seeming progress. From the moment of America’s birth, slavery was embedded in institutions, laws, and the economy, and yet even as slavery ended, racism survived like “an infection.” By telling individual stories—of free blacks in Canada; of a modern, racially motivated shooting—Causey movingly personalizes the costs and the stakes of continued inaction. “The past is never dead,” William Faulkner once said, and this echoes one scholar’s warning: “We’re still fighting the Civil War, and the South is winning.” (Dir. by Frances Causey, 2017, USA, 91 mins., Not Rated)


More information about the film can be found at

Friday, December 30, 2016

Movies for a New Year's Revolution

I considered making a list of heartwarming, feel good movies to help us get through the pre-dystopian blues (and you can certainly find them here.) But after a month of that kind of distraction, I feel it’s time to move on. If you’re ready for a change too, this list might be just what you need – Movies for a Revolution. 

If you’re like me, the best remedy is doing something about it. These movies leave you with a feeling of hope. President Snow (of Hunger Games ) warned us about hope, “A little is good. A lot is dangerous” – because it can ignite a revolution. Right now our country could use a lot of hope. If you’re ready to see things blown up, these films provide the arsenal. But if you’re ready for a revolution - at least a revolution of the heart – allow these films to ignite the force in you and prepare you for the work ahead.

One way to get prepared is to arm yourself with the facts of what is going on in our world.

1) In The Hunger Games series, we observe how the government controls the people through the corporate owned media. They instill fear and divide the people of the 12 districts by having them fight each other in the hunger games. Meanwhile, the citizens of the Capital live in gluttony by exploiting the resources and labor of the 12 districts, while the working class struggles to get enough to eat.

America’s corporate-owned media planted fear in us that made us ripe for a populist demagogue. They did that by broadcasting a stream of violent images of terrorist acts, drug cartel wars, and every conceivable crime done by a Mexican or person of color. They used illegal immigrants as scapegoats, blaming them for our lack of jobs, while the CEOs got million dollar bonuses for sending our manufacturing jobs overseas to exploit cheap (sometimes slave) labor. We need to heed Peta’s advice and “Remember who the real enemy is,” so we are fighting the right battle. Katniss shows us that our strength lies in love.

2) Like I wrote in my previous review, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the ultimate action flick - a total adrenaline rush of continual action, one long explosive car chase. It is a practical effect picture. Everything you see on the screen is real. Real people driving those trucks, real trucks rolling over and crashing in the Libyan desert. The production had military advisers for the battles.

This prophetic action movie briefs us on the consequences of pursuing profit over the common good. The barren wasteland resembles the scarred land that mining companies leave behind. Our country is at the cusp of a dystopian system where greedy corporations will have complete control over the one thing we all need to survive – water. The first steps have already been taken. Nestle bottled up California’s water during a severe drought. They are now bottling what’s left of the clean water in Michigan to sell to the people of Flint whose water was poisoned by corporate meddling. Nestle is currently setting up operations in drought-ridden Phoenix to bottle Arizona’s CAP water (water that was transported 326 miles from Colorado at a great environmental cost) so they can sell our own water back to us. The chairman of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, told his board that water isn’t a human right, that it should be privatized. As fossil fuel companies continue to deplete our water supply to extract coal and gas, they are creating a water shortage. Some countries are already in the midst of water wars like those in Mad Max. Imagine having to rely on greedy corporations to divvy out our drinking water.

Every-man Max and the young War Boy Nux learn from the mothers what is really worth fighting for: fair distribution of water and a future for their children where their sons aren’t raised as fodder for old men’s wars. The movie demonstrates how to get our warriors to fight for what is right – by showing empathy for their suffering and uniting with them over "righteous causes."

The movie inspires us to plant the seeds of change in our communities. The shot of the matriarch unwrapping the heritage seeds is a great visual metaphor for planting the seeds of a more sustainable way. Change is fostered by demonstrating successful practices - much like the water harvesting systems initiated by Brad Lancaster. (Look him up. He didn’t win the local genius award for nothing.)  Curb cuts (that irrigate street-side trees) used to be illegal in Tucson. Now water-harvesting features are required at new apartment complexes. As Nux says, "It looks like hope."

3) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story casts a laser beam on how a small group of dedicated people can make a big difference when the Force (I’ll call it love) is with them. It shows how taking a risk to do the right thing can inspire others to follow suit. Revolutions are built on hope!

A real-life example is the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. The peaceful Water Protectors are putting their lives on the line to stand up to Energy Transfer Partners' (Sunoco) attempts to build an oil pipeline under the Missouri River that supplies water to 17 million Americans.  (Look it up. These pipelines explode and leak all the time...) A small group of matriarchs from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe started this prayerful, non-violent action out of love for their children and Mother Earth. Despite sparse media coverage, over 300 indigenous tribes have joined them. After watching drone footage of police brutally attacking unarmed protesters, two thousand vets deployed to Standing Rock to defend them and our water. Thanks to the Water Protectors the permit to drill under the Missouri River has been denied. That is the hope I was writing about! But it's not too late to join the fight. Trump signed an executive order to restart the pipeline, so the fight continues.



Hopefully these Sci Fi flicks will inspire the peaceful warriors in us all to take up the good fight, even if that just means trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle: not buying bottled water, bringing reusable shopping bags to the store, being mindful of water use, driving less, buying local, keeping up with what is happening in our government, signing petitions, and pulling money out of banks that support the pipeline... To quote Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” (Sorry, that’s another movie.) 

I would greatly recommend The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for an inspiring New Year's marathon. Wishing you a Happy New Year full of hope and love. 

Movie Blessings! 
Jana Segal-Stormont

If you would like to read more about my adventures in transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle, visit my other blog:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Our Desert Community Plants the Seeds for a New Doc

I apologize for not keeping up with my Reel Inspiration reviews for the past few months - even though there have been several meaningful films that really touched my heart.  I started writing reviews to help promote inspiring, thought provoking movies. I especially felt drawn to films that spoke to the important issues of our time.  In the process, I learned so much! I was inspired to start a new blog that has taken up much of my attention:

Since Dan and I started blogging about our journey to a more sustainable lifestyle we have had the opportunity to come in contact with so many inspiring community groups cultivating an oasis of sustainability here in Tucson.

Emma demonstrates how to shore up a catchment basin.
Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA) is reviving their cultural traditions by having tribal elders mentor youth on their native foods. Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace re-built the Mission Garden, a living museum, to demonstrate how to grow crops from pre-Columbian to those that Father Kino established in that location.  Native Seeds/SEARCH 
maintains community food traditions by preserving diverse and heritage seeds. Manzo ElementaryChangemaker High and City High tend to the next generation of desert gardeners. Through their community garden programs, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona doesn’t just feed the hungry, but teaches them to grow food for themselves. Iskashitaa Refugee Network assists refugees in becoming self-sufficient (and reduces food waste) by harvesting fruit that would otherwise go unpicked. Dunbar Springs neighborhood worked to make their street an example of an edible, urban forest irrigated by rainwater. Watershed Management Group is building a community that works together to restore Tucson’s aquifer by implementing rainwater harvesting techniques and desert landscaping in people's yards, gardens, streets and businesses. These groups (among others) are gleaning from Tucson’s rich cultural history ways to live in harmony with the desert. This is truly an exciting time to be a part of this vibrant community!

Shooting the first segment with Brad Lancaster at Dunbar Springs
I decided to make a documentary about the accomplishments of these communities with the hope that it would inspire others. So I approached activist/ documentarian Evan Grae Davis with the idea. Evan had just read Edible Baja Arizona’s article about Tucson being the first US city to be designated a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy for the same advancements. He was excited to tell our story!

Our last shoot was for the rainwater harvesting segment featuring Watershed Management Group. Dan and I have planted our roots into the WMG community. In addition to being members of their co-op, Dan recently got the good news that he was accepted into their docent training program!  We love being a part of a community that is working to restore our groundwater and get our rivers flowing again.

Here we are shooting in Jason and Connie Carder's yard. (See Jason working alongside of Emma in the pic above.) They had 3 roadside catchment basins (wow!) and berms installed to control the runoff after their house had been flooded during a recent storm.

Happy owner Connie Carder
Co-op members Grant and Carrie Stratton share why they volunteer
Where's Waldo...uh...Dan? 
Emma helps a co-op volunteer arrange rocks 
Two hard workers: workshop instructor Emma Stahl-Wert and my baby Dan
A little patch of purslane ignited a conversation about edible weeds. Later in the day, Dan heard someone call out, "Don't step on the purslane!" A woman after my own heart! It's so great to work alongside kindred spirits who feel as passionate as we do about getting our rivers flowing again and protecting purslane!

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal-Stormont

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reel Inspiration: 10 Years of Movie Blessings

A blast from the past: The Reel Vision Flmmakers Conference. Photo by Wendy Reichenthal.
Recently I happened on to the first review I ever posted on this blog about an empowering little film called “Akeela and the Bee.” Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I posted that first review on the Reel Inspiration blog?

This blog was actually a small aspect of Reel Inspiration. Our mission was to encourage and promote the production and theatrical success of diverse films with entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope or inspire human consciousness. We encouraged filmmakers by hosting the Reel Vision Filmmakers Conference, film contests, and by promoting their films through our “Reel Members” e-mail list. The idea was that our members would forward the reviews to their film-loving friends. You know…you tell two friends and they tell two friends and together we create a market for meaningful films. We signed up most of our members at the community screenings of our contest finalists. My favorite was the Family Arts Festival. My kids would help me run the zoetrope activity. Then our volunteers, Michael and Sarah, would take over so we could enjoy the fest! The festival is gone now along with most of the e-mail members. 

This blog wasn’t even up yet when we promoted our first film. It was 2004 and the board was on the lookout for a new indie film, when we got wind of “What the Bleep Do We Know.” It was kind of an odd choice because it wasn’t quite a narrative film. It was kind of a mish-mash of documentary, narrative and animation. But the producer was breaking new ground by approaching managers individually and asking them to screen his film. The film would be promoted entirely through word of mouth and an email campaign. “It won’t cost the theater a dime. What do you have to lose?!” he pitched. 

Founding Members: Wendy, Michelle and Jana.
Wendy designed our logo and the poster above.
Michelle came up with our name! 
We were delighted when we heard that “What the Bleep” was on its way to Tucson. It was just the opportunity we needed to see if our marketing plan could work, so we signed on. We sent out e-mails, we put up posters, and we posted board member Wendy’s review on our make-shift website. I made it a point to tell at least five people a day about the film at the coffee shop where I hung out. I did the same thing at my church on Sundays. Eventually, my pastor asked me about it. He began announcing the screenings at the pulpit. When I stopped keeping track, it had already screened for 39 weeks in Tucson! This metaphysical film was a phenomenon in this new age community.

It hasn’t always been that easy to see the impact of our reviews. There were times I got discouraged because I didn't feel like I was making a difference at all. I had to be reminded that it wasn’t about me, it was about the filmmakers and the movies. Like the time Reel Inspiration was featured on Arizona Illustrated. I had been up all night digging through my closet looking for something that still fit and wouldn’t make me look fat on camera. During the interview a mosquito hovered around me. Loopy from lack of sleep, I unconsciously started scratching the itchy bites. It looked like I had the shakes on camera. Not one of my shinier moments. This gave them ample time to highlight the other Reel Inspiration representatives, including contest finalist Justin Mashouf. They showed a nice clip of his powerful short, “Morning Submission” about why Muslims pray. As a direct result of that segment, two Muslim women wearing hijabs were inspired to attend the Reel Vision Filmmakers Conference. 

I am honored to have a platform to promote filmmakers with powerful messages. In 2010 when border issues were really heating up here in Tucson, I received an invitation to the premiere of LuisCarlos Davis’s doc, “389 Miles: Living the Border.” Sensing that his doc could create more understanding of the plight of undocumented immigrants, I encouraged him to screen it as much as possible. I was able to put out a call to the Reel Inspiration community and my facebook friends to host screenings. LuisCarlos became an outspoken advocate for the undocumented, travelling the globe to speak on border issues. (See the entire movie, "389 Miles: Living the Border" for free.)

It hasn’t always been easy to tell if the reviews were reaching anyone. Once I got so discouraged that I stopped writing them for a while. But I actually missed it. It was the films themselves that motivated me to return. "Searching for Sugar Man," (Most Inspiring Film 2012), told the story of  Rodriguez, a Dylan-style rock poet, who disappeared after his one album flopped. Unbeknownst to him, his album became the sound track for apartheid. Just by following his path, he made a huge difference.

Whenever I’m in need of inspiration I can watch Pai’s quest in “Whale Rider” – the movie that set me on my path to start Reel Inspiration. And I am grateful for that journey. To date, I have written 178 articles on films! The Loft Cinema is practically my home away from home. (I saw at least 40 of my "Most Inspiring Films" at the Loft!)  Movies have made such a difference in my life. I especially feel drawn to films that address the challenges of our times. The reviews give me a chance to talk about issues that are important to me. This eventually led to me branching out to a blog on sustainability. Documentaries like “The Anthropologist," and "Ours Is the Land," that I saw at the Arizona International Film Festival, continue to ignite my passion and motivate my work on social justice and sustainability

My first blog review in 2006: "Akeela and the Bee"
Akeela’s spelling coach quotes Marianne Williamson, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure....As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same."  Let it shine on in films that inspire all of us.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal-Stormont

Indivisible: Love Knows No Borders” is a great example of how powerful films can be – how a film can change people’s perceptions, open their hearts, and inspire action. I’m delighted to continue a Reel Inspiration tradition by putting a call out to our community. Please, support these brave Dreamers by hosting a screening of “Indivisible” at your club, organization, or anywhere with a movie or TV screen. Find out how to arrange for a screening at:

Interested in being a part of the Reel Inspiration community? If you would like to get reviews e-mailed to you, or suggest a movie to be reviewed, or write one yourself, please, e-mail me at:

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Arizona International Film Festival: My Fest Within a Fest

I have been attending the Arizona International Film Festival for 18 of its 25 years!  It all started in 1998 when I decided to make my first short film.  I went to find out what exactly constitutes a comic short.  Back then, the genres weren’t clearly labeled on the program, so I picked out any shorts that sounded the least bit funny. I accidentally ended up going to a dreaded doc program! I used to avoid documentaries because I thought they were dry, boring educational programming. I credit the Arizona International Film Festival with igniting my passion for documentaries. I found out that the best documentarians are great storytellers. Docs can be hilarious character studies, heart-breaking human tragedies, breath-taking thrillers, and current, cutting edge insights on important issues that affect us all.

I used to get one or two of the discount passes (5 films for $25.) But it is so worth it to get the all access pass. You can get your money’s worth in one weekend!  With over 100 films screened in 17 days, you can pick and choose to create your own fest within a fest. I managed to get at least four fests in: Human Rights Docs, War Films, International Shorts, and Tucson Filmmakers Fests.

Shorts programs are great because you can be a theater seat adventurer and discover a new interest that you might never have considered. And if you don’t care for one short, they’re short! Wait a few minutes and there will be another one. You can always hang out in the lobby with Angie and Amber and have a brewsky. But you may not get the chance. The shorts have been that good!  

My one regret is not seeing more of the comic and dramatic shorts this year. Ironic, since I started off as a screenwriter and I have made three narrative shorts. Two were screened at the AIFF: “Desert Angel” and the comedy I was doing the research for, “The Bath-a-holic.” Lately, my heart has been drawn to human rights and environmental films. (See my reviews of "Indivisible" and the "Anthropologist.") The short docs program was so inspiring for me.  Kai from “Riding the Highline” shared his adventures hopping trains and read a visceral poem inspired by the experience. (It won a Special Jury Reward for Creative Achievement!)  I am still in awe of Sister Judy Bisignano for her courage in sharing her weaknesses that made “Sister Jaguar’s Journey” so powerful.

The Arizona International Film Festival has grown into an important fest. It receives submissions from around the world.  This fest is not about celebrities. It’s about indie filmmakers connecting with their audience and other filmmakers. And there were plenty to connect with! Howon Kim, the lead actor of the fascinating short "Chalet," flew in from South Korea to spend the day at the fest. An interpreter was provided for the Q & A. But the actor didn’t need an interpreter to exclaim, “Filmmakers! I want to hang out with you!”

One of my favorite parts of the fest is hanging out with the filmmakers between films. The festival holds free Connect with Filmmakers panels each Saturday. I met Kai from "Riding the Highline" and Vinnie, the producer of "Monty and the Runaway Furnace"(Special Jury Award for Visual Storytelling) after one of the panels. A good rule of thumb is to attend the films of the people you meet. The first weekend I had a blast chillin’ with Seth (I ended up writing about his film, “The Anthropologist” that later won Best Documentary) and Doug the cinematographer of the beautifully shot “Caravan" (Special Jury Award Documentary).  It wasn’t about collecting business cards (though collect them I did!) It was about getting to know some really fascinating people!

Attending the fest is a great way to show support of Tucson's own indie filmmakers. I sat with writer/producer Ginia Desmond of the moving family film “Lucky U Ranch” (see my review) during several screenings.  I have enjoyed following Anna Augustowska's ("Our Desert Farms") progress since seeing her touching doc, "Donnie."  Frances Causey squeezed my hand when I showed up for her important doc, "Ours is the Land."  And I was there to congratulate Daniel Hyde when he won the coveted Arizona Filmmaker Award for his incredible short, "Manna."

Another great thing about the AIFF is its commitment to community engagement.  Mia Schnaible, our enthusiastic MC, encourages the audience to be a part of the discussion during the Q & A with the filmmakers.

Here we are in the front row with Ginia.
After screening “A Bitter Legacy” about the secret "Citizen Isolation Centers" built to separate "trouble-makers”within the WWII Japanese-American incarceration camp system, filmmaker Claudia Katayanagi spoke about her family connection to the story. This timely film really hit close to home when she called up an Arizona couple who remembered the camp near their trading post. Other members of the audience recalled the incarceration camp as well.

The filmmaker of “Return to Dak To” shared his experience of returning to Vietnam with four other men from his unit to deal with their unresolved issues from the war. He did a shout out to any other vets in the audience. Some were moved to share memories the film evoked. The audience really got involved in the discussion. We were all very emotional after that powerful doc and "Heart of a Tiger" about a WWII pilot who returns to China to thank the villagers who saved him.

Ferguson 365” filmmaker Christopher Phillips also shared his journey. After Michael Brown was shot in his neighborhood, Christopher picked up a camera. He was arrested for recording a non-violent protest. He said he would be expanding on the theme of how poor black people are exploited by the system in the feature version. (How a $100 traffic ticket ends up being $1000 in fines that lands the driver in jail when he can’t afford it.) The Q & A led to a passionate exchange about social injustices during lunch.  Blown away by the audience response, Christopher said he could “feel the love.” Talking about "feel the love," "Ferguson 365" ended up winning Best Documentary Short! Congrats, Chris!  

This year,  AIFF organizers took advantage of the opportunity to share some cutting edge technology. I tagged along with my roboticist husband to the drone workshop. The filmmakers of “Our Desert Farms” and “Fly Spy” used drones to enhance their films with aerial shots. We enjoyed the spectacular drone footage and then the filmmakers shared their expertise and answered questions from inquisitive audience members. The workshop expanded my own vision about ways I could enhance my projects using drone footage. 

I never dreamed that I would become a pass-carrying fan of the festival docs. But I have been BLOWN AWAY with the quality of the docs this year. One after another of profound, important, mind-expanding docs! In its 25th year, the Arizona International Film Festival attracts filmmakers with their fingers on the pulse of the most current issues we face as a society. On the 16th day of the 17 day fest, I am overwhelmed. My biggest challenge was not having enough hours in the day to watch all the fascinating films or to write about them!

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal-Stormont