Fifty years ago, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson originally proposed the idea of “a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment.” He had no idea how powerful this idea would be. On April 20, 1970, millions of people from schools, universities, and communities took to the street to demand environmental action. Since then, Earth Day has only become larger and more urgent. In 1990, it grew to be a global initiative with over 200 million people from 140 countries participating. To mark its 50th anniversary, Earth Day is focusing on climate action. Since many of us are sheltering at home, Earth Day provides 24 hours of action that can be done digitally.
To celebrate Earth Day this year, we are watching films that remind us how much one person can do to address environmental change. From rescuing a horse to fighting corporate pollution, there's plenty to do and lots of ways of doing it.
Dark Waters | Call to action
Based on Nathaniel Rich’s profile “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare,” Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters brings to screen the remarkable true story of a corporate lawyer who took on big chemical’s malfeasance and won. In 1998, Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) had just been made partner at a prestigious Cincinnati corporate law firm when a farmer from his family’s West Virginia hometown brought him a case that would change his life. To uncover the mystery of why that farmer's cows were dying, Bilott traced back the pollutants to the local DuPont factory and discovered how the corporation’s dumping of toxic chemicals had put the lives of thousands of local citizens at risk. For the next two decades, Bilott fought DuPont in court again and again to bring relief to those who have suffered and call attention to the ongoing environmental disaster. “There is a power in an individual who persists,” explains Bilott about what makes the movie so compelling, “Just one person, one farmer, one community—they can …make the world better for all of us.” As Variety notes, “Todd Haynes has made the first corporate thriller that’s a call to action because you’ll emerge from it feeling anything but safe.” Rather that just expose the problem, Dark Waters highlights what we can do to make things better, like sign up for Participant Media's “Fight Forever Chemicals” project.
The Mustang | Saving others
In The Mustang, writer/director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre crafts a poignant story of how two untamed creatures—a prisoner (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) serving time for a violent crime and a wild horse captured in the Nevada wilderness—find a connection. Having spent years researching the actual rehabilitation program in Carson, Nevada on which the story is based, de Clermont-Tonnerre distills the emotional truth of those prisoners into an emotional drama. For former inmate (and an advisor to the film) Thomas Smittle, “The horse saved my life and this is what I want to do with the rest of my life, working with horses.” The Mustang is also looking for ways to work with horses by helping organizations that benefit these special creatures. The film’s executive producer Robert Redford explains how the wildlife group Return to Freedom seeks to preserve one of our great natural treasures—wild horses.
Promised Land | Finding your community
In Promised Land, Gus Van Sant’s explores the human side of one of our biggest environmental issues today—the selling off of rural communities to oil companies for fracking. Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and his colleague Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) arrive in an economically depressed Pennsylvania town to convince residents to sell off their land rights to oil fracking. John Krasinski plays an environmental activist who at first seems to oppose the oil company's plan. For the filmmakers, this environmental story was also a tale about small town America. Krasinski, who co-wrote the film with Damon, wanted the story of people having to decide between economic uncertainty and environmental ruin to be “representative as a whole of everything that we’re going through as a country.” Participant Media included with the film a Community Action Toolkit to help people want to make a difference in their own hometowns.