October 31, 2014

Bruce Royer’s Living Life Forwards Screens June 18

 

The thoughtful documentary, Living Life Forwards: Culture and Sustainable Development in the South Pacific, will have its public premiere at the Topanga Library on Wednesday, June 18, at 7 p.m.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF BRUCE ROYER

Bruce Royer’s <i>Living Life Forwards</i> Screens June 18

Bruce Royer filming on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The hour-long film will be followed by a discussion with its makers and producer/editor Bruce Royer, owner of Topanga’s Royer Studios and this year’s Executive Producer of the Topanga Film Festival, coming to Topanga July 17-20.

For Living Life Forwards, Royer traveled to Fiji, New Zealand and Hawaii with director/host Leszek Bruzynski to explore the effects of bringing [electrical] power to ancient South Pacific cultures. Has wiring remote outposts brought harmony or conflict? As they discovered, it brought a little of both.

Royer has worked with Bruzynski on 14 films. “He’s a Brit,” he says, “a Richard Attenborough type, who brings his lively wit to the process.”

Their initial trip to Fiji and New Zealand in 2012, started as a research project, but became “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Funded by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute and Office of Naval Research, the group filmed “amazing interviews” coupled with “powerful images,” said Royer, with infectious enthusiasm. They went with no preconceptions. “We went on an exploration to find out what we would find out and invited the viewer to go with us.”

PHOTO COURTSEY OF BRUCE ROYER

Bruce Royer’s <i>Living Life Forwards</i> Screens June 18

Bruce Royer filming on the big island of Hawaii.

In Fiji they arrived just as a new hydroelectric dam brought electricity to native villages that had never had it before. When the government built its first dam decades ago, they bypassed the villages, leaving them in the dark.

This time, they were “more attuned to the needs,” and not only wired the villages, but laid road through the jungle, providing access and jobs for many.

But one village rebelled, asking for more from the government. That brought a clash of cultures.

Excited by their initial trip, Royer and Bruzynski decided to expand the project to a one-hour documentary, designed for television. In New Zealand, they saw how the politically powerful Maoris, who believe they own the air and water, tried to find common ground with the government, who wanted to harness both elements and sell interests to outsiders. It was important to find a resolution, since “New Zealand is one of the greenest countries on the planet” – using hydro, wind and geothermal power.

Hawaii is also a very green place. “Solar and wind are massive there,” Royer explains. There the conflict came because native Hawaiians did not believe in using geothermal power – drawn, as they believe, from Mother Earth. These issues are vital to the South Pacific, since they are “at the end of the food chain for fossil fuel” – oil must be shipped in at enormous expense. Fijians, Royer explains, spend 40 percent of their expenditures on fossil fuels. Even more important, these South Pacific isles are most vulnerable to climate change and rising oceans.

These great themes of climate change and green energy are important, but Royer seems also justly proud of catching the cultures in moments that give a window into their lives. On their return trip to Fiji, they became the only Caucasians with the only cameras to record a celebration after the ritual re-thatching of the bure, or wood and straw hut, of the village chief, an event that only happens every 25 years. The film may soon have Canadian sponsors, who will help the film find its way to American television. Bruce Royer is irrepressibly energetic, with many irons in the fire. As a local business leader, he served as president of the Chamber of Commerce. This year, the 10th anniversary of the Topanga Film Festival will focus on local filmmakers and composers who are, he says, within “six degrees of separation” to the Canyon. Not everyone knows that the Topanga Film Festival, founded by Urs and Sara Baur, is a non-profit and all those who work for it, including Bruce, volunteer their time.

­Bruce and his wife Teresa own Tuscali Mountain Inn, a highly rated B&B off Topanga Canyon Boulevard, and also host excursions up and down the Coast from the Getty to the wine country in their Mercedes van. The couple met at Topanga Days 11 years ago and were about to celebrate their anniversary with another trip to the festival.

Film and animation are Bruce’s main passions. He has produced more than 100 short films and shows no sign of slowing down. His latest venture is to act as the arts arm of the Youth Challenge Academy, a National Guard-sponsored school open to 16 to 18-year-old dropouts, who spend 22 weeks in a residential compound as they work to turn their lives around.

“We’re adding one component to the wheel,” Royer explains, adding that they are training kids to create animation [films] that answer two questions: “Why did I drop out?” and “Where am I going?”

Join the remarkable Royer and Bruzynski on June 18, 7 p.m., as they take us to the South Pacific and discuss what it means to be Living Life Forwards.The event is free, open to all and sponsored by the Canyon Sages and Topanga Library.