A year after they went to Mars in “Tin Can,” local filmmakers Stephen J. Maas and Eric Clifford are examining our finite planet in a new feature.
In association with Intrinsic Films, the Milton-based company that produced last year’s sci-fi feature, their new film, “State of Green,” documents the renewable energy revolution happening in Vermont, Director Clifford said.
By “revolution,” he meant the comprehensive energy plan the state of Vermont adopted in 2011 – one of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s first-term goals – that calls for 90 percent of the state’s energy needs to be derived from renewable sources by 2050.
“No other state is even in that category of thinking,” Clifford said. “It’s easy to say it, but when you really look at what it means, it’s nothing short of a complete change in the way we’re getting our energy now … When you attach the human story behind that goal, it gets complicated.”
That’s where the “State of Green” story starts. Using the Kingdom Community Wind project in Lowell and two families with very different feelings about it as a thread, Clifford and Maas plan to explore alternative energy and its impacts on the land and the people who live on it.
“What we’re really trying to do is show how Vermont encapsulates the issues on any scale,” Maas said.
The duo posted video clips and blog posts about the filmmaking process on the movie’s website, and most footage filmed so far centers on the large-scale wind development in the Northeast Kingdom.
But “State of Green” isn’t just about wind; the duo will study every energy source, renewable and not. So far, though, Clifford’s been told more than once to focus.
“The actual reality is you can’t focus,” he said. “You can’t separate energy into different issues.”
If Vermont meets its energy plan goals, there’s no way the energy will be just wind: “It’s going to be everything we can do on every scale,” Clifford said.
That includes non-renewable natural gas, like the kind Vermont Gas brings here via the TransCanada pipeline.
“It’s important to look at [fossil fuels in the film], because the reality is, if we change, part of that change is going to be looking at infrastructure that is dependent on natural gas and how to transition [it],” Maas said.
Our dependence on fossil fuels brings up another important theme: policy. Clifford plans to explore how decisions made in Montpelier and Washington can affect consumers’ choices.
“If, in the last 20 years, we had laws in place where we were using less energy in a household, and it was a benefit for homeowners … would we be developing mountains?” he said.
Clifford and Maas, both native Vermonters, haven’t taken a side in the energy debate. They have opinions, but both demonstrate an understanding of the multifaceted issues.
“Vermont is very progressive, and we’re small enough; we still have town meetings,” Clifford said. “Something like this 2050 renewable revolution is possible here.”
Maas added that if someone asked, “What do Vermonters think about renewable energy?” they’d get 100 different answers.
“We’re trying to speak with Vermont’s voice, to capture this moment in time,” the producer said.
Convincing people – sources, investors – that “State of Green” will be an unbiased look at renewable energy has been difficult, Clifford conceded.
This film project has been on Clifford’s mind for about four years, he said. The Northfield native (he now lives in Barre Town) loved hiking in Vermont as a kid and went on to the University of Vermont’s environmental studies program. In college, he took on odd property maintenance jobs and then joined AmeriCorps after graduation.
While working for the Montpelier Parks Department for his small stipend, Clifford continued accepting tree work, painting and construction jobs to save money.
In 2010, when Clifford was still a volunteer, Green Mountain Power was building a 200-kilowatt solar plant in Berlin.
Maas’ friend works for the power company, and through him, the men signed a short-term contract with GMP to produce a 40-second, time-lapsed promotional video of the plant’s construction.
That business relationship helped Clifford and Maas gain access to some of the footage they’ve filmed thus far. GMP offered to pay the duo to film Lowell’s construction, but they turned it down.
Clifford and Maas have captured some amazing footage so far. They ventured up Lowell Mountain from both the GMP side and the face the protesters used for their campsites.
Using a remote-controlled heli-camera – a flying, high-end, digital device – built by Vermont filmmaker Tim Joy, Clifford and Maas filmed crews building some of the 400-plus-foot wind turbines earlier this year. The vantage point offers incredible perspective and scale of the 21-turbine project.
Clifford also rigged a small, GoPro camera to one of the turbine’s three blades as it traveled by crane up to the tiny-looking men inside the turbine’s nacelle. Raising the blade took about 25 minutes, Clifford said.
The filmmakers are up front with their GMP sources, telling them the film will include less favorable opinions of the project.
They’ve sought out wind opponents, embedding with Lowell protesters who call themselves Mountaintop Occupiers a few times last year. After descending the mountain one day, Clifford noticed somebody scrawled “GMP” in the dirt on his truck. He believes whoever wrote it looked up his film credentials and saw the piece he made for the power company in 2010.
Clifford stands by his history and is resolute in maintaining neutrality in the film.
“People have seen us enough on both sides now that they’re starting to get it,” he said.
State of Green LLC – the company Maas and Clifford established for the project – recently got the support of a nonpartisan arts organization that the filmmakers hope will help establish their credibility.
St. Johnsbury-based Catamount Arts just signed on as State of Green’s fiscal agent, allowing it to accept tax-deductible donations on the filmmakers’ behalf.
As a 501c(3), Catamount often takes on a fiscal agent role to help unincorporated artists apply for and accept grants, but working with the LLC is unique for the organization, Artistic Director Jerry Aldredge said.
After several meetings, Catamount decided to support “State of Green,” “because we feel it will add to the conversation about sustainable and renewable energy,” Aldredge said.
“It’s not a propaganda piece; it’s a true expression of artistic merit,” he added.
Clifford and Maas recorded hours of interviews and footage on renewable energy projects, but they have several other sites they want to visit to tell the whole story, including the Gaz Metro and HydroQuebec sites in Canada and the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. They set their budget at $93,000.
Filming is planned through 2013. They’ll visit Lowell once the turbines are up to depict the mountain’s regrowth.
“It would be unfair not to show that,” Maas said.
Based on funding, Clifford hopes the film will be released by early 2014.
State of Green is accepting tax-deductible donations at any time. An online Kickstarter campaign seeks to raise $20,000 for film production by October 21. Visit www.stateofgreenmovie.com for a link to the Kickstarter and for more information about the film, including footage.