'Wakan Tanka' aims to unite youth and elders to fight climate change

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In the global fight against climate change, the media spotlight tends to focus on what's new: new technology, youth environmentalists, cutting-edge ideas.

But what if the solutions to living in balance with nature are already here, all around us, in the age-old wisdom of elders? Are people wise enough to integrate the current technological ideas with the wisdom of our elders? Are people wise enough to listen to them before it's too late?

It's the central idea behind producer Margery Moore's highly anticipated feature film, Wakan Tanka.

Featuring interviews with highly-regarded elders including David Suzuki, Robert Bateman, Grandmother Agnes, Haida elder Miles Richardson and former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, the film gives voice to an older generation, who aim to speak to the hearts of  younger audiences. Part music video, part documentary, and part fantasy, Wakan Tanka is unique and original.

Bridging the generation gap 

Moore,  Director of  Bloomberg BNA's EHS Alliances in Washington DC, is making the film in collaboration with the charity she co-founded, I-SEA, on Salt Spring Island. Her hopes are that this film unites two very different demographics to help slow the negative effects of climate change happening all over the planet. 

I-SEA, and the UK-based production company Substantial Films, are now in post-production and seeking funding to finish the project and get the message out via the web, for free.

"The elders and the youth in the world – that discussion and heart connection - that's how real change is going to happen," Moore said.

"Washington right now is gridlocked. If you look at issues like Keystone or a price on carbon, it's very difficult to get strong policies through fast enough to mitigate the effects of climate change."

Moore's inspiration for the film developed over 20 years in the gorgeous environment of Salt Spring Island, BC, where she often met older people with deep traditional knowledge of living with nature.

As the global climate crisis has grown, the elders' teachings were not reaching younger generations, and had no outlet, Moore observed. How could the wisdom of elders – some of whom lived in remote areas – be transmitted to the metropolitan, media-savvy Gen Y? 

"We decided to make this film versus a book, say, because for better or worse kids today tend to be in front of a screen and want to be entertained. So we decided to create a film that they can learn from, be inspired by, easily share amongst their peers, and emotionally connect with," Moore said.

While her initial plan was to make a straightforward documentary, she decided to add a twist by putting in music and interlacing the interviews with the story of Zak, a teenager in a fictional world, trying to find a sustainable future through connections with his grandparents.

She chose this format after consulting Substantial Films, based in Brighton, UK.  She realized then that the film would have to speak not just to viewers' intellect about climate change, but also the heart. Substantial Films built on Margery’s initial ideas and created the script that is part docu-drama and part music video.

"I didn't think there's been enough of an emotional link to climate change – this is a disconnect we must change," she said. "Through the film, I wanted to emote this overwhelming love for each other and the planet. The First Nations Elders do this perfectly, and with the dramatic backdrop of Zak’s journey, there are usually tears when even watching the promotional videos on the website.” 

To help negotiate use of music, she received support from Patti Bauer, the film's line producer.

“Our intent was to seek out music that comes from across the globe from high-ranking musicians of different backgrounds, but who all believe in the same message that we're connected to the earth,” Bauer said.

Among the many groups that signed on was the legendary British electronic duo Lamb, who invited Moore and her crew to their house. Their lyrics in the song “Wise Enough” gave a chilling backdrop to the voices of elders, who were defending the planet in their last years.  

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