The world in which we live is both beautiful and terrible. There are those among us that recognize these polarities and are working tirelessly to enhance the beauty and alleviate the suffering. The battles they wage are usually uphill, beset by discouragement and failure. How does one persevere in the face of these challenges?
The new documentary film, Elemental, shares the stories of three individuals, living on three different continents, all imbued with an unshakable spirit of action. Whether it is fighting for access to unpolluted water, rallying communities or continuing to say “Yes!” in the face of adversity, these three individuals are shining examples of what change looks like today.
Elemental, which was produced by The Global Oneness Project, juxtaposes the rich heritage of Native culture with the extractive desolation of the Canadian Tar Sands. It contrasts the deep reverence for the Ganges – “Mother Ganga” – held by millions of Hindus with the floating detritus that lines her banks and poisons her waters. Throughout, the passion and conviction for change confronts failing systems and corporate greed. Yet hope persists.
In this exclusive interview with Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, the Co-Director, Co-Producer and Co-Composer of the documentary Elemental, we explore the persistence of hope and other questions relating to the creation, filming and mission of the film.
Seven Pillars: Why and how are these three stories connected in your mind?
Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee: The stories of our three characters are connected in several ways. On a personal level, each character has a deep connection to the natural world. This connection is at the core of why they do what they do, it both supports and nourishes them and their work. Each character and story is also connected by the tremendous obstacles each face, and the determination and commitment to persevere in the face of such adversity. From the issue side of things, each story is connected by water, climate change and energy issues. The idea was to try and tell a very human and personal story about our relationship to the natural world and the challenges and opportunities we currently face during this ecological crisis. Although the stories are disparate and from the far corners of the world, they compliment one another and help tell a truly global story.
7P: What words would you use to describe the inner drive of these three change-makers? Is there a common source for their passion to change the world?
VL: I think their deep personal commitment stems from their personal relationship to the natural world and their sense of place within that. But it takes on different forms. For Eriel, her people's survival drives her to continue on, despite the monumental odds against her. For Rajendra, it's his country's survival that motivates him to try and save India's most vital river. And for Jay, his global perspective and belief in the power of nature to bring answers to the world's most pressing problems, as well as his boundless optimism, give him drive to change the world.
7P: How would you characterize the living wisdom embodied by these three people?
VL: They all have perseverance, patience and faith. They know change may not come in their lifetime, but are willing to commit themselves to it regardless. This takes courage. They also all look to nature as a teacher and value her ancient wisdom.
7P: How would you define the roles that these three individuals play within their own communities in relation to the environmental challenge they face?
VL: Each are leaders in their communities, leaders known for their commitment to stand up for the rights of nature. They are also known as people who can "get things done" and persevere.
7P: In the film, Eriel Deranger is depicted purchasing a "greasy" cheeseburger at a fast food drive-thru. It is known that beef production is oil intensive. In the same vein, they are driving cars to the protests. Where would the fuel come from, if not from fossil fuel sources like the tar sands? This juxtaposition reveals one of the conundrums activists face. How do we reform a system while living within it? Can you share reflections on this quandary?
VL: I think we all face this quandary. Very few of us can live without being part of this ecologically destructive world we've created. Showing the contradictions – the human side of things – is important as we can all relate to that.
7P: The Global Oneness Project films seem to capture extraordinary beauty and ecological catastrophe in equal measure. What is achieved by illustrating these contrasts?
VL: I think it is important to find beauty in everything, especially amidst the destruction. If we can find beauty then we will be more interested in connecting with the world around us. It touches your heart, not simply your head.
7P: You were co-producer of the musical soundtrack of the film. What were some of the objectives behind the choices you made?
VL: When composing the music we wanted to create a score that would help create cohesion among our stories, and help unify them. We wanted the music to act as a through line on which the stories could hang, connect and interrelate. The themes acted as a tool to unify and connect the different stories and bring them together – especially towards the end of the film.
7P: What do you hope is the outcome of your project? What do you want the viewer to take away?
VL: Rather than have simple outcomes - do this, do that, etc... I'd hope that people reflect deeply on the world we live in, the kind of relationship we want to have with the natural world, and how important it is to persevere in the face of adversity. It's easy to lose hope with so much destruction around the world and for apathy to set in. But if we can connect with nature, even for just a moment, a lot can change. It's what drives our characters in their respective journeys, and brings them hope to carry on.
Visit the website for Elemental: www.elementalthefilm.com