For their latest film, Planting Earth Week, director Brian Ryu and producer Troy Enoka followed a radical climate activist to tell the story of a splitting decentralized movement that made headlines in 2019. Here’s how they got access———and what they hope audiences will take away from this 13 minute documentary.
Q: What got you interested in climate activism?
BR: When President Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, I was shocked so I initially set out to do a story on climate change. As I began researching for the project, talking to scientists and academics, I realized that I would have to travel outside of New York City to do a climate change story because New York City is actually ahead of the country on climate efforts. Around this time in 2018, I started hearing about a group called Extinction Rebellion that was doing artistic protests for the climate all around New York City. I wanted to learn more about what they were doing.
Q: How did you find this story?
BR: In order to find the story and the character, I went to several Extinction Rebellion meetings. I attended their training sessions and got a first-hand look at what it felt like to be a climate activist. I presented myself as a documentary filmmaker and surprisingly, most people were very welcoming of me. During a protest in October of 2018, one of the members told me about Karlos. When Karlos told me that he had been arrested 11 times in 2019, the most of all the people I’ve met and interviewed, I was intrigued. Why was he willing to go through all that for the climate? In order to get a deeper look into his life, I shadowed him for several weeks before returning with a camera and asking him if I could make a documentary about his work.
Q: How do you think this relates to Americans today?
BR: Climate activism made a huge splash in 2018 with Greta Thunberg, but one thing that’s important to remember is that most of the climate movement is decentralized. This means that there will be disagreements on how to go forward and demand concrete changes from the government. On one hand, all the participants agree that change must be made, but not everyone can agree on how it should happen. This sometimes leads to no progress being made. If Americans want to vocalize their collective opinion, they need to first agree on how to do it together.
Q: What is happening with Edmonds now?
BR: With the coronavirus pandemic shutting everything down, Edmonds is mostly at home, encouraging people to plant trees in their own homes and in neighborhood gardens. He calls this group Mass Autonomous Planting and on Signal, there are more than 50 people who are a part of it. Even though it’s a small group where people share photos and videos of themselves planting trees and discussing their actions, they are managing to convince other people to join. For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Extinction Rebellion in D.C. answered the call and is now also encouraging everyone to plant trees at home. They’re even willing to send out seeds to make this happen. Other groups are offering online classes on growing different kinds of plants. What started in October as a solo protest by Edmonds calling for a mass gathering has managed to gather quite a fair number of people.
Q: How did you decide on the editing of the film?
BR: We wanted to capture the nuances of Edmonds’ interactions with other people, so we kept it as vérité as possible.
Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
BR: We hope that people will see the difficulties of modern-day activism and realize that demanding change can come in many forms, whether you agree with such methods or not.
Brian Ryu is a South Korean documentary filmmaker and journalist. He is a producer of Planting Earth Week. Previously, his animations have appeared in The New York Times and The New Yorker. Before getting his undergraduate degree in Film & TV Production at New York University, he was a United Nations peacekeeper in South Sudan.
For more about Brian, please check out his website here: http://www.brianryu.com/
Troy Enoka is a producer based out of Honolulu, Hawaii. He produced a web series, a feature film and over 15 award winning short films. He graduated from New York University in 2018 in Film and TV Production. His documentaries have been featured on PBS Hawaii, a member of the Public Broadcasting Service as well as online.
For more about Troy, please check out his website here: http://troyenoka.com/