Florence filmmaker Roger Sorkin wins award for short film on climate change

Last modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — When Florence filmmaker Roger Sorkin found himself frustrated with the way he saw climate change discussed and debated, he sought to change the way the topic was being framed.

With that in mind, Sorkin has been working on his film, “The Burden: Fossil Fuel, the Military, and National Security,” since July 2011 and hopes it to be finished by this summer. Once the film is complete, Sorkin says he will do everything possible to make sure it is seen — and not just by the usual liberal-minded crowd.

In the meantime, a short version of the film recently won some attention. Sorkin is the grand prize winner in the short-video category for the American Clean Skies Foundation Energy Visions Prize. His film was selected from about 30 films submitted in the category.

The film tells the story of how oil dependence threatens national security, and how the U.S. military could promote a clean-energy economy. The film is co-produced by the Center for National Policy, an independent think tank aimed at improving the country’s economic and national security. Several individuals who worked on the film are from western Massachusetts communities.

The $40,000 prize was presented Feb. 28 in a ceremony at the Hotel Monaco in Washington. It was the first year for the awards, which were given for short videos, long videos and mobile and Web-based applications.

A five-person panel of industry experts evaluated the submissions and made recommendations to Gregory Staple, CEO of the American Clean Skies Foundation in Washington.

Andrew Heyward, former president of CBS News, led the judging panel. He said in a telephone interview that panel members all agreed to recommend Sorkin’s video for the prize. Heyward said he was drawn to the film from many angles. “It was very well-produced, skillfully made and was an original approach to fossil fuels,” he said.

“It was a very provocative argument. The people who appear in it make a very a compelling case,” panel member Bill Smee, executive producer of Slate V, an online video magazine, said.

Sorkin says the award seemed a validation of his efforts.

“It was an affirmation that other people see this as a way to change the conversation,” he said in a telephone interview.

Sorkin said the cash prize will be used to pay off his debt from making the film, and to pay for work that people have put into it. Sorkin still hopes to raise about $450,000 more to complete the film project, largely from private donations. A six-minute version won the award, but Sorkin expects to eventually have a 30-minute film to release to the public.

The film includes interviews with retired and active military personnel, the CEO of Sapphire Energy, a San Diego company that produces oil made from algae, lawmakers and government officials, as well as military and news footage. Those interviewed discuss the economic burden of shipping oil, and the resources used to protect fuel trucks, often from their firsthand experiences.

“Using polar bears and soft cuddly animals doesn’t work. The issue needs to be talked about in terms of human survival,” Sorkin said.

By framing the topic in this manner, Sorkin said he hopes to remove the romanticism of the discussion and reach new audiences.

“People think of Al Gore or liberals with a pejorative connotation. I wanted to find out how can we see this as a conservative issue,” he said. He said that he has observed how politicians prioritize support for troops, and believes that providing them with renewable energy is the perfect way to exercise this support.

“A lot of technology has its origins on a military test bed,” Sorkin said, citing examples like GPS technology. He believes that the military-industrial complex would be a practical solution for renewable energy, with the least possible shock to the economy.

Sorkin said he intends to promote the film through the media, by entering it in festivals, and hopefully through a television distribution deal. Looking at the big picture, Sorkin said he wants to see the climate change discussion framed in terms of national security by the next presidential election.

Moving forward, the filmmaker hopes to continue making films that reframe debates and change people’s mind.

“I really want to dedicate myself to telling stories that are going to help bridge the political divides,” he said.


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