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Always a Statesman

At Stanford. Interviewed George Shultz today for the independent documentary I’m producing, SHATTERED SKY. I was really hoping to link some of the lessons of the fight to save the ozone to today’s climate challenge, and Shultz didn’t disappoint. We focused on his days as Secretary of State under Reagan, and what a key role statecraft played in forging a US consensus to do something about the emerging ozone hole.

Linking Ozone and Climate

If you can get a job you like in Boulder, Colorado then run—don’t walk—to accept it. Driving into the city is not only absolutely beautiful, but also a lesson in urban planning: green mountains cradle this small-ish city within. It is obvious the city has set aside a lot of public space for parks, sports, and great views. This general sense of livability and work-life balance is reinforced by the number of mountain bikes and sandle-wearing scientists I see at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I’m here to interview Susan Solomon, who led a vanguard expedition to Antarctica in 1986 that proved the science behind the hole in the ozone. Impressive. Solomon is also chair of one of the working groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—so she gives incredible insight into the links between ozone and climate.

Nobel Prize . . . Thanks to the Stratosphere

At the University of California Irvine today interview Nobel Prize winning scientist Sheri Rowland for the short film we’re making for the Environmental Protection Agency. Rowland was the one who, in collaboration with Mario Molina, discovered the science behind the ozone hole. I didn’t quite understand much of the nitty-gritty, so I looked it up before interviewing him: Wikipedia: ozone depletion and read up even more on Rowland.

Transamerica through a Veil

So Dan and I are on location in San Francisco today making a short film about the ozone layer for the Environmental Protection Agency. We interviewed Bill Reilly, former EPA Admnistrator. Reilly is our best interview so far, probably because he not only played such a big role in inspiring US leadership to protect the ozone back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but also because he’s still fighting the good fight today.

Reilly’s making big news: a few months ago, he led the biggest “green” private-equity buyout in history. He joined the board of TXU, which agreed to cancel the construction of eight future coal plants, and agreed to invest $400 million in energy-efficiency measures to meet a portion of future demand. The report on it from the NGO perspective: NRDC article; and from the corporate persective: TXU press release; and from the news media perspective: A Utility Buyout that Has Many Shades of Green.

The shoot went well, and we manage a pretty cool set-up with a background of the city’s iconic Transamerica building in silhouette behind a gossamer veil.

After interviewing Reilly, I walked away with the sense that this one man is a true connector, bridging the worlds of policy, government, finance, and environmental advocacy. May he continue the good work . . . . In the absence of any executive leadership the last six years, we sure need it.

Taking the Ozone Train to Jacksonville

Today in Jacksonville, Florida. I interviewed Lee Thomas, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This was for a short film for the EPA on the history of the ozone challenge. My co-producer, Dan Evans, and I will interview 10-12 key players (in about 7-8 states around the country) who impacted the science, politics, and industry associated with ozone-depleting substance.

“Ozone-depleting substances!” What a drab phrase. A mouthful. Or I could write “all the chemicals that were first discovered to be burning a hole in the stratosphere, the presence of which scared the living daylights out of people in the early 1980s.”

Back to Lee Thomas. Southern gentleman, wicked smart, but humble. Currently in the private sector and serving on multiple “green” boards. Back in the 1980s, he had the unenviable task of convincing the Reagan Administration that it was high time to do something about the ozone. We interviewed David Doniger last week, who was a key player in NGO circles, filing lawsuits against the EPA, trying to urge them to work faster and do more to protect the environment. Well, what did Doniger think about Thomas? He called Thomas’ leadership “the most important in the last generation.”

Oh, and that includes current leadership on the climate change issue. More on that to come . . .

Encountering Cincinnati’s First Citizen

Friday in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine is a flurry of life, as documentary research leads me to politicians, ex-con weightlifters, millionaire arts patrons, and a cabal of partying idealists. First, friend and co-producer, Joe Brinker and I meet Bill Baum, principal of Urban Sites. Baum’s been developing property for a quarter century in Over-the-Rhine, through all the bad times, and is leading the charge during this new phase of activity. His speciality: preserving the historically significant facades while renovating the outdated, cramped tenaments into modern, spacious lofts. Coming from DC, I’m amazed at the low cost of these condos, especially since downtown is just a few minutes away by foot. Baum is soft-spoken, straightforward. Later, I would talk to Jeanne Golliher, Director of the Cincinnati Development Fund, who says that “there is a special place for Baum in heaven”; and that his renovations in Over-the-Rhine “are setting the standard.”

Joe and I take several hours to walk around Over-the-Rhine and meet people: do they think things are changing for the better here? Somehow I’m soon engaged in a benchpress competition with Ken at Lord’s Gym. Orlando, who’s the volunteer, explains the mission of the gym, that it’s an outreach of the nearby Lutheran Church. Across the street, Washington Park is a big green space that, if it were cleaned up a bit, could rival the best that Boston or DC have to offer. But there are at least 20 or 30 people drinking out of paper bags, just sitting around — and barely a stone’s throw from a school! On one side is Music Hall, which is absolutely stunning. Later, I would watch a documentary, Music Hall: Cincinnati Finds Its Voice, which gives a great history of the arts in the life of Cincinnati.

After some famous Cincinnati chili for lunch, we meet Reverend Damon Lynch of The New Prospect Baptist Church. Lynch figured prominently in Cincinnati’s 2001 riots. Many people paint him as an apologist for the riots, and to some degree they are right. But I see him as an advocate for the poorest of the poor. Maybe one of the most vocal they have. Lynch’s quote that sticks with me: “There’s a difference between economic development and community economic development.” As this project continues, I’ll need to get a better handle on Lynch’s perspective. Is it the same as that of Over-the-Rhine’s 80% African-American population?

Joe and I race up to the Kroger Building, downtown, to meet with Vice-Mayor Jim Tarbell. “Cincinnati’s First Citizen” as some people refer to him, have a love affair with this throwback of a councilman: he rides a scooter around the city; owns a bar; has an infectious smile; is a keen historian; loves his city. I acquire bits of the Tarbell legend throughout the day: he squatted in a St. Paul’s Cathedral to save it from the wrecking ball, he formed the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce back when there wasn’t any commerce, he dresses up in top hat and tails for Opening Day, in hommage to the hometown Reds. Why can’t all councilpeople be like this, I wonder? From an upper story overlooking the exquisite architecture of Over-the-Rhine, we attend Class Tarbell: History 101. And after two hours of historical vignettes and charming asides, I feel energized . . . and realize: I’m going to make this documentary.

Cincinnati’s Urban Core

I arrive in Cincinnati today for a five-day pre-production trip for a new documentary, tentatively entitled Rebirth of Over-the-Rhine. My co-producer Joe Brinker has arranged a slew of meetings. My goal: to determine whether I’m interested enough to pursue the emerging story of this neighborhood people call Over-the-Rhine, which according to our research is on the cusp between decay and renaissance. Potentially, it’s a compelling American story that will resonate nationally.

I’m hardly in town for an hour when we sit to lunch with Councilman John Cranley. At first, he’s guarded, but soon realizes that our intentions are above-board. We explain we’re interested in telling a positive story about progress in the area, and that our chief interests are the business and social entrepreneurs who are making a difference. Cranley gets fired up and goes into detail about the policy measures and investment facilities that he believes are responsible for the changes. And he rips off a dozen names and numbers of people for us to follow up with. Great start! Next, Joe and I are drinking coffee with the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Peter Bronson. Bronson wrote a book called Behind the Lines: The Untold Story of the Cincinnati Riots, which I had read so I was eager to talk. Ultimately, Bronson turned out to be an affable guy, but with a singular focus on safety and security issues. To be honest, he didn’t strike me as somebody who spends much time in Over-the-Rhine, however. Next, Joe and I had an appointment with Michael Spalding and Roula David, the co-owners of Vinyl, a funky new restaurant in Over-the-Rhine. I’d seen an article on them and their daring plans to open several chic restaurants in this depressed neighborhood, so I really wanted to meet. We sit on the brick veranda of Vinyl as the late-afternoon sun begins to set. I look around and the architecture is as distinctive and historic as the best I see on a daily basis in Washington DC. Yet, most everything is more run-down (I would learn later that there are about 500 vacant buildings in this area; and that it’s been named to the National Historic Trust for Preservation’s 11-most endangered list). As we talk, Michael and Roula greet passersby: young professionals on their way home, a few homeless people they knew by name, and even Marge Hammelreth, the Executive Director of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation.

I start to realize that Cincinnati is a small town. And Over-the-Rhine is smaller still. Logistically, this is not a bad thing for a documentary project. Michael and Roula are the real deal. Both live and work in Over-the-Rhine. Both are putting their money where their mouth is, fixing up old properties, conceiving of hip bar concepts, making a buzz. By the end of summer, they say, they’ll have three restaurants nearby. For my first day ever in Cincinnati, not a bad start.

Bismarck on the Mountaintop

“What’s African about this volcano summit?” I was asking myself in a sound-design session today for my documentary film, Volcanic Sprint. Our footage was extreme up on the summit of Mt. Cameroon (the halfway point of the race). But it was so freezing that the camera intermittently failed to capture audio. When a female leader summits, race staff shout encouragement in a sing-songy chorus of English and Bakweri dialect. It’s a joyous barrage, carving out space from the wind and cold and expanse.

When the men leaders summit, however, the audio cuts off. You can’t even hear the 50 mile-per-hour winds. In the silence, my thoughts go tangential and I imagine the racers talking in German. Who knows why. But if World War I had gone differently, Cameroon might still be German Kamerun. In fact, three other African states share similar histories of German colonization: Togo, Namibia (South-West Africa), and Tanzania (Tanganyika). Racers would be clad in lederhausen.

During our session, the music composed by Asparagus Media ultimately carried the drama, and when we needed wind, our sound designer, Howard at TEAM, made it happen. Then I remembered something I learned during production in Cameroon. When the town of Buea erected a statue for perennial winner, the Queen of the Mountain, her son Pierrot told me, clearly proud, that it was the second statue in the entire province. “What’s the other one?” I asked. Without hesitation he answered: “Bismarck.”

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