“You can’t have ‘green’ without social justice.” – filmmaker Robert Lundahl
June 20, 2013 (San Diego)--EMMY® Award winning filmmaker Robert Lundahl takes a hard look at U.S. energy policy and its effects on desert ecosystems, Native American tribes and communities across the West. The film has special relevance locally, where major energy projects in San Diego and Imperial Counties have sparked legal actions as tribal members seek to protect their heritage and sacred sites from destruction.
The filmmaker and Native American elders from California, Nevada & Arizona will be present at the premier of “Who Are My People?” The San Diego premier is a special presentation by Activist San Diego on Saturday evening, June 22, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at. Joyce Beers Uptown Community Center, 3900 Vermont Street, San Diego, 92103.
The Bureau of Land Management scoping meeting for the Rio Mesa Solar Plant outside Blythe, California likely caused heartburn for the BLM, applicant Brightsource, and related subcontractors and agencies last fall. Time and time again Native elders stood up to declare concerns and articulate potentially unresolvable conflicts of values, goals and process. This clash of cultures and life-ways is the subject of Filmmaker Robert Lundahl’s, latest documentary, “Who Are my People?” exploring not whether we should invest in renewables like solar and wind in response to climatic change, but where we should put them.
Who Are My People? not only deals with technical and policy related questions but explores what is at stake. The deserts of California and the West are a vast cultural repository handed down from indigenous peoples who inhabited the area for thousands of years. And some of that culture seems downright strange to Anglo-European eyes, like enormous geoglyphs or earth drawings, visible from space, including giant human-like forms and complex geometries.
Their remote locations ensure that most Americans have never seen or heard of them, until now. Stranger still, the world’s energy companies and partners including Chevron, Bechtel, Florida Power and Light, the German firm Solar Millennium, Israeli Brightsource, and others, want to build energy facilities seemingly right on top of them.
As a filmmaker, Lundahl relishes intellectual complexity, then shifts gears, putting the camera in the middle of the conflict itself, as company thugs threaten Native elders with arrest at one “sacred site,” while they seek to practice their religion.
Native elders in the film agree that solar belongs on rooftops and already distressed lands, but that apparently has escaped the view of policymakers, agencies and companies. Whether born of ignorance or lack of political interest, it doesn’t matter much; companies compete to receive 30% up front cash grants and loan guarantees from a politically motivated government, content to remove all investor risk in this ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act) scandal that makes solar firm Solyndra’s hijinx and bankruptcy look like child’s play.
For Lundahl, born in Southern California, and raised with desert treks and adventures, it is nothing short of a spiritual conflict. “You can’t have ‘green’ without social justice," he says. "If you want to drive a Prius, that’s fine, but we need to consider where that energy comes from and what damage is done out of the eyesight of the consumer.”
Lundahl and Co-Writer/Associate Producer, John Boyd (Elwha Klallam/Arrow Lakes Band), have been down this road before. Boyd’s people, the Elwha Klallam of Washington State, saw their river dammed for power in the early 20th century, decimating large runs of salmon that fed the people. Lundahl’s film, “Unconquering the Last Frontier,” examined that tragedy in a story that reached a culmination in 2012, when the federal government removed the dams and began to restore the river. "But the desert is fragile," says Lundahl, "and a devastated culture cannot be mitigated.”
“Who Are My People?” is a story that defines the nation and the state of California in 2013, our fears, weaknesses, and myopias, portraying a giant “get rich quick” scheme, where profit takers seek to capitalize on climate change fears without having much of a vision to change the behaviors that caused it over time.
The film features Don Alfredo Figueroa, Chemehuevi/Yaqui, Preston J. Arrow-weed, Quechan/Kumeyaay, Phil Smith, Chemehuevi, and Reverend Ron Van Fleet, Mojave.
View a trailer of the film: