by director/producer Robert Stone
I would like to invite you to see my new documentary, Earth Days,
a meditation on humanity's complex relationship with nature and an engaging
history of the revolutionary achievements—and missed opportunities—of groundbreaking
eco-activism in the 1960s and ’70s. Given the contemporary emergence of a
new environmental mentality, I feel that this is an excellent time to look
back at environmentalism's first wave and its fascinating figures that provoked
change and awareness in a truly radical way.
Earth Days is in many ways the culmination for me of years of thinking and studying and making films about the events that shaped my own childhood and that of my entire generation of Americans. As such, this film is as much my own story as it is the story of the nine characters who form the spine of my new film, and maybe even the story of us all.
In all the contemporary agonizing about climate change, so much of the environmental movement’s past successes have been almost completely forgotten, particularly by young people, most of whom see their efforts at environmentalism as starting from scratch. They have little or no knowledge of their own history. In 2007, I embarked on a film about the environment reaching a crisis point, our achievements and mistakes in tackling these grave problems, and about taking our eyes off the ball.
This is without a doubt the most ambitious film I’ve ever made. In taking on such a big subject I was determined to make the film firmly grounded in personal narrative, to make it entertaining and visually arresting, and to avoid many of the common pitfalls of environmental documentaries. Early on, I settled on nine Americans through whom we come to see the environmental changes that began to take place after World War II, changes that compounded themselves to alarming levels by the end of the 1960s. We witness the fruits of their extraordinary successes in political activism, as well as the results and lessons of their missteps. To my mind, this is the great forgotten story of the 1960s and ’70s, obscured perhaps by the simultaneous efforts in Civil Rights and ending the Vietnam War.
Ultimately perhaps, environmentalism is the greatest legacy of the social and political upheaval of that period. Within a single generation we fundamentally altered how we perceive the relationship between man and nature. It can almost be seen as a sudden evolutionary leap that we took as a species, and it’s one that has never before been documented.
Earth Days is certainly a cautionary tale, but it also illuminates the historical fact that positive changes in social attitudes, technological possibilities and political determination can take place very rapidly if the will exists to make it happen. We were halfway there a generation ago, but then we lost our way. As we at last begin anew to tackle our many environmental challenges, it’s vital to know how we arrived at this predicament and what lessons from the past we can draw upon in facing an uncertain future. This is why I made this film, and why I made it now.