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March 02, 2012

Can a Film Bridge Gaps in the Energy Debate?

JonbiopicbMark your calendars: March 21 is Vermont Energy Independence Day, and proponents of the movement want to hear from Vermonters far and wide about how the state should tackle issues of energy production in the future.

What's that, you say? You've never heard of Vermont Energy Independence Day? Don't fret: You've still got a chance to get in on the ground floor. This year marks the first-ever event of its kind, and it lands, not coincidentally, on the day Vermont Yankee's license would have expired. 

"It was back in November or December that we hatched this idea," says Jon Erickson, a professor with the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and a member of the team behind Bright Blue EcoMedia. The Bright Blue producers knew about the significance of the date, and figured that at least some other activists in the state would glom on to the timing, so they crowned March 21 Vermont Energy Independence Day. "So far," he says, "the gamble's paid off."

Erickson and his fellow filmmakers are using the day as a jumping-off point for a crowd-sourced documentary — the first of its kind in Vermont, they think — devoted to issues of energy independence. It's the story, Erickson says, of Vermont's more than 100 town energy committees, of the state's new comprehensive energy plan, and of the small steps that individual residents are taking to insulate an attic or switch out inefficient lightbulbs. He says the method of making the film — which will rely on amateur filmmakers to send in footage from all over the state, in addition to story corps posted at spots around the state on March 21 — fits nicely with how he sees the energy conversation evolving in Vermont.

"What we're seeing is this really grassroots effort to transition Vermont from a kind of an unsustainable, nonrenewable energy to sustainable, democratized, decentralized energy sources," Erickson says. 

Margot Harrison wrote about the project few weeks ago, and now the first entries are trickling in, including a student project called "Parkour for Vermont Energy Independence Day:"

But Erickson says that the project is about more than filmmaking. In his mind, it's about jumpstarting a conversation that has the potential to be exceptionally divisive. Already, he says, that divisiveness has cropped up in conversations about biomass, solar and wind development in the state — and he hopes the filmmakers will hear from Vermonters with diverse views on the subject.

"There's lots of voices out here, but what you can do with a film is show those critical leverage points, where we agree more than we disagree," Erickson says. "Whatever the issue is, the film can become the straw man that people use to get past their differences."

Which begs the questions: Can a film really bridge the gap in the controversial energy debates in which Vermonters find themselves engaged? What, if anything, will you be doing on Vermont Energy Independence Day?

Photograph of Jon Erickson courtesy Bright Blue EcoMedia


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