Sundance 2020: The NRDC Inspires Change
This year at The 2020 Sundance Film Festival the NRDC (National Resource Defense Council) showcased a series of panels with actors and activists discussing a variety of topics that permeated the festival’s ethos. Topics included gender equality, cultural diversity within the arts, climate change, and disability inclusivity.
While the film festival has always sought to showcase many of these topics within their film sections, the presence of the “NRDC Impact Lounge” represents graduation for the festival into becoming a more engaging platform for inspiring real change.
“I was told once that celebrity is something that you spend,” remarked Julia-Louis Dreyfus during her panel discussion alongside CEO and president of the NRDC, Gina McCarthy. “I feel like working with the NRDC to help speak out against the global climate crisis is spending my celebrity on something worthwhile.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has won multiple Emmys throughout her career for her work on Seinfeld and Veep and who in 2018 was presented with the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, has served as a board member of the NRDC for a number of years and recently penned a deal with Apple TV+ to produce and star in multiple projects for the new streaming service.
During their panel talk at Sundance, the women spoke to the audience about their hopes of utilizing Dreyfus’ new deal with Apple to create the kind of programming that could bring attention to the global climate crisis to a wider audience.
The past decade has seen a prevalence of critically-acclaimed documentaries and films that hope to inform about the true threat that climate change poses to the future of humanity and the planet itself.
The issue is that the rhetoric of some of these films often times feel lauded by scientific facts that are meant to insight fear more than they are meant to entertain an audience. This means more skeptical viewers may shy away from watching, leaving the message of the films to be preached directly to a choir who will use the evidence simply as cannon fodder during some unhinged Facebook or Twitter argument which will produce little to no change.
“I believe that there is a true power in narrative television and film to create a positive change and open a healthy dialogue within our communities,” Gina McCarthy told her audience.
“In my day it was ‘All In The Family’ and then later on it became shows like “Will and Grace” that we’re able to start conversations inside the homes of those of us who may not have always been so accepting of hearing different points of view.”
McCarthy’s statements regarding the sitcom “All In The Family” echo the statements of many historians and entertainers who studied the show’s effect on our society. The show was released in 1971 as the United States was going through a sea change of idealism. “All in the Family” centered around a family led by a bigot named Archie Bunker with a loud mouth and strong disdain for anyone different from himself, including his feminist daughter, his black neighbors, and his unemployed, hippie son-in-law he lovingly referred to as “Meathead”.
While Archie was the encapsulation of all of America’s prejudices, he was not simply some two-dimensional, unlikeable villain who couldn’t change. Each episode of the show was a verbal boxing match between the stereotypes that America had been force-fed for decades and the new ideals of young Americans. Watching the opposing sides verbally duke it out for 30 minutes each night while still loving and caring for one another made if ok for those same discussions to happen within the American household.
“It’s the children that usually have to teach us the new way to do things,” continued McCarthy. “It’s important for the government to pass laws that will bring about change, but it never really starts with them. Real change grows from the grassroots. From conversations at home.”
McCarthy should know. Her activism started at a young age and was built around passing our flyers and creating pins with poignant messages to help spread her ideals throughout her community. From there, her career as an advocate flourished until she became the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama.
McCarthy went on to say “Art and film are such important mediums for distributing information about the effects that climate change is having on our planet. They have the potential to get people thinking and acting when done in the right way. I think Julia is the perfect person to help create something that could do that.”
Which is exactly what brought the two women and the NRDC’s Impact Lounge to The Sundance Film Festival. Their hope is to find collaborators that share their advocacy for environmentalism and entertainment in order to produce quality content for Dreyfus’ Apple TV+ productions over the next coming years.
While some may scoff at the idea that movies and television have the ability to sway the actions of society as a whole, after listening to these two women speak about their vision at this year’s NRDC Impact Lounge, it’s safe to say that if any two people could do it, it’s these two incredible women.
Images courtesy of Kim Raff & Kalvin Lazarte.