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September 11th, 2013

New film chronicles environmental movement

A Fierce Green Fire, the new film by Academy Award-nominee Mark Kitchell, documents the rise of the environmental movement from the 1960s through the present day. Photo: A Fierce Green Fire

Dear EarthTalk: What is the new documentary film A Fierce Green Fire about and what does the title refer to?

- Gloria Howard, Washington, D.C.

A Fierce Green Fire is a new film documenting the rise of the modern environmental movement from the 1960s through the present day. It premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and will be playing at select theaters across the country beginning in September 2013. Written and directed by Mark Kitchell, Academy Award-nominated director of Berkeley in the Sixties, A Fierce Green Fire (the film) is based on the 1993 book of the same name by environmental journalist Philip Shabecoff.

The phrase "a fierce green fire" refers to a passage in one of the seminal environmental books of the 20th century, 1949’s A Sand County Almanac. In the famous "Think Like a Mountain" section of that book, author Aldo Leopold relates his experience as part of a predator extirpation team that shoots a wolf in the New Mexico desert:

"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

Kitchell’s film shows how this passage and other writings played a crucial role in the re-birth of the environmental movement in the 1960s.

Featuring five "acts," each with its own central story and character, the film depicts a central environmental conflict of each decade since the 1960s. The first act, narrated by Robert Redford, focuses on David Brower and the Sierra Club’s battle to halt dams in the Grand Canyon in the 1960s. Act two, narrated by Ashley Judd, tells the story of Lois Gibbs and other Niagara Falls, New York residents’ struggle against pollution buried beneath their Love Canal neighborhood in the 1970s. Act three is all about Greenpeace and efforts by Captain Paul Watson to save whales and baby harp seals, as told by Van Jones. Chico Mendes and Brazilian rubber tappers take center stage in Act four, as narrated by Isabel Allende, in their fight to save their Amazon rainforest. Lastly, Act five focuses on Bill McKibben, as told by Meryl Streep, and the 25-year effort to address the foremost issue of our time: climate change.

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