November 23, 2014

America is addicted to oil — It’s time for an intervention

 



There’s a hilarious moment in Fuel, the 2008 Sundance Best Documentary Audience Award-winning film directed by environmentalist Josh Tickell and produced by Topanga residents Rebecca Harrell and Darius Fisher—musicians Neil Young and Willie Nelson together filling the tank of their tour bus with biodiesel. “It’s going in right now as we speak.” Young quips to the camera, “It’s the most patriotic thing I’ve ever done.”



Former Topanga resident Young is just one of a diverse and brilliant crowd of high profile names starring in this important and timely film. Just a few weeks ago, nine hundred people came to walk the green carpet at its premiere at the Crest Theater in Westwood, including forward thinking luminaries such as Paul Hawken, Peter Fonda, Mariel Hemmingway and John Garamendi. Tickell, introduced on stage by fiancé Harrell, proffered his film to the packed audience as “pregnant with hope.” So far this year, film festivals around the country have honored Fuel with seven awards including best screenwriting at the Sedona Film Festival and the IVCA Clarion award for Corporate Social Responsibility. It is an official selection for more than 20 film festivals around the world.

“It is a masterful film,” wrote bestselling author and environmentalist Paul Hawken in an email to the Messenger for this article. Hawken, who many know as the author of Natural

PHOTO COURTESY OF FUEL FILM

America is addicted to oil — It’s time for an intervention

Capitalism, which Bill Clinton referred to as one of the five most important books in the world today, and Blessed Unrest, How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, is renowned as one of the Green movement’s great philosophers. ”Fuel achieves something few activist or environmental documentaries have done, which is to win you over. The audience at the opening was the choir, and although it was immensely popular and received a resounding ovation from them, it will play in Alabama and North Dakota too. It is not a polemic but a story, a story based on strong beliefs. Without losing its conviction, it allowed each of us, expert or newbie, to find our own way with the material, united all along by the charm of the narrator and director, Joshua Tickell. It is a masterful film.”

Fisher, who is also the online editor and post supervisor, has worked around the clock for years on this film with his partner Johnny O’Hara. Their company, Digital Neural Axis, created visual effects for movies such as The Aviator, Superman Returns, and The Last Samurai among others. Most recently they co-produced the documentary film Encounter Point. They met

PHOTO COURTESY OF FUEL FILM

America is addicted to oil — It’s time for an intervention

Neil Young (left) and Willie Nelson fill their tour bus with Biodiesel in Texas.



Tickell in 2004 at the L.A. Film Festival. Fisher said, “Josh had a trailer there, meant to be a fundraiser for a theatrical feature film. The film was called The Veggie Van’s Voyage. The film documented Tickell’s five-year, one-man odyssey as he drove his brightly painted Veggie Van around the country fuelled by used vegetable oil from fast food restaurants, and had already garnered attention for his cause including an interview by Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

Tickell asked O’Hara, who had at that time just finished a book tour with Penguin for his novel, Elvis and You, to write the screenplay. Fisher joined up with Tickell to produce. The team started a grass roots operation to provide the finances necessary to fund the feature-length film. Backers include Malibu resident John Paul DeJoria, a hands-on environmentalist who in 2002 donated his Tuna Canyon Property to the Mountains Reservation Trust. DeJoria was so enthusiastic about Fuel, he became an executive producer.

PHOTO COURTESY OF FUEL FILM

America is addicted to oil — It’s time for an intervention

Environmentalist Josh Tickell, Director of the 2008 Sundance Best Documentary Audience Award winning film Fuel, holds a jar of biodiesel with veggie van in background.



Tickell, the film’s protagonist, is a soft spoken man whose short red hair and boyish good looks, coupled with a contagious smile and slight Southern lilt, are reminiscent of Opie from The Andy Griffith Show. He emigrated from Australia to the bayous of Louisiana from where his mother hailed, and spent a good part of his childhood living near the oil refineries in Baton Rouge. There he experienced the impacts of dirty oil processing at a young age. After watching members of his family suffer from pollution related cancers, Tickell began a lifelong quest to find sustainable, clean energy sources. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in sustainable living from New College, Tickell has devoted his life to this mission.

“I made Fuel to show that there is a way for America to have all the energy we need without compromising our peace and freedom.”

Apart from DeJoria, two of its producers have emotional connections to the canyon. Rebecca Harrell grew up lying in a hammock in an ancient tree grove with Pablo Capra at film director and Topanga activist Bernt Capra’s home in lower Topanga. Originally from London, Fisher and his beautiful wife, Melanie Franciosi, chose Topanga to live with their daughters, Padma and Shambala. “We love the spirit of the place and as soon as we spent the night in your house and woke up feeling like we were in the countryside, we knew Topanga was the perfect place for our family in Los Angeles.”

“Most Americans know we’ve got a problem: an addiction to oil that taxes the environment, entangles us in costly foreign policies, and threatens the nation’s long-term stability. The film documents Josh’s whirlwind, revelatory journey to unravel this addiction—tracing the historical origins to political constructs that support it,” writes Harrell in her Fuel blog on Facebook. Ironically, their biggest challenge came after Fuel won the audience award at Sundance. “We’d had such a great reception at Sundance,” relates Tickell. “We had 11 screenings, which was unprecedented.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF FUEL FILM

America is addicted to oil — It’s time for an intervention

Philanthropist, Malibu environmentalist and Executive Producer John Paul DeJoria fills the Patron train with Biodiesel in Los Angeles.



“Most films show three times. We had 11 long, standing ovations,” Fisher continued. “Robert Redford had invited us to bring the Veggie Van to his house. And then, the very next day, the journal Science published two articles basically saying that if government biofuel targets were met or doubled, pushed to the maximum, the growing of the food crops for fuel could have a bad impact on global warming. It would pose a huge threat to the world’s food supply and cause catastrophic land use changes.”

Sitting around a fire pit at the Tickell/ Harrell home at dusk last week, I brought up a concern a friend had raised about the effects biofuel posed to the orangutans in Borneo. My friend had just returned from producing a documentary on one of Leakey’s three angels, Canadian primatologist Professor Biruté Galdikas, who is facing the challenge of trying to stop their rainforest habitat from being raised to make room for biofuel plantations.

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER

America is addicted to oil — It’s time for an intervention

(l-r) Melanie Franciosi holding baby Padma, Producer Darius Fisher, Director of Fuel, Josh Tickell, Producer/ Marketing Director Rebecca Harrell and writer Johnny O’Hara.



“I know. Imagine farmers bull-dozing the Amazonian rain forest to grow soybeans and sugarcane,” the film’s screenwriter Johnnie O’Hara said. “The Sundance version already came to the conclusion that biofuels from food crops was not the answer and that the future hope was in things like biodiesel from algae and ethanol from non-food cellulosic sources, but it still took the wind out of our sails. Basically the hero of our film—all biofuels, sustainably produced or not—became the villain.”

“It changed the public perception of biofuel overnight. Hundreds of articles came out about their findings,” Fisher recounted. “We were devastated. We had already addressed what we saw as the future of biofuels as being from waste and non-food feedstocks, produced sustainably, but we realized at that moment that we had to go deeper into the issues of how we could present biofuel sustainability in our film.”

They didn’t have to look far, Fisher continued. “I was in London at my friend Sam Roddick’s house, the daughter of Body Shop’s Anita Roddick. It was her suggestion that we include this issue, the fall of biofuels, as part of Josh’s personal journey.”

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