The following is an interview by avajane.com with Annie Costner. Annie is the founder of Sound Off Films (http://soundofffilms.com) along with Adrienne Hall. Sound off Films is a production company specializing in documentary film content. They work with both non-profits and the world’s biggest brands to tell stories that matter.
Enjoy the avajane interview with Annie Costner!
You worked on the new documentary “Racing Extinction.” Can you tell me a little bit about it?
I moved to Boulder, CO, to work with the Director Louie Psihoyos in 2010. At that time, the film titled The Singing Planet, was a documentary on mass species extinction, using the sounds and songs of the animal kingdom to elicit an emotional response from audiences. Over the course of five years, and continued discovery, the story landed more squarely on climate change because the same forces driving climate change are also directly responsible for species extinction. My job was to figure out how to tell that story in a way that was informative and entertaining, but also, most importantly, uplifting. In the absence of a real human or emotional connection, it’s difficult to talk about large issues. And so the narrative re-focused on activists and all the work and the individual voices carrying this message forward. Maybe it’s easier for us to imagine about joining a movement already in progress?
*A side note about Racing Extinction is that the Original song Manta Ray was nominated for an Oscar this year
What was a common theme you found during your time on Racing Extinction?
Sadly, the most common theme I found in my research was steeply declining wild populations or all-out extinction due to habitat loss. Our human populations demand so much of this earth. It’s not just the space required for 7 billion people to exist, it’s the additional land mass required to grow our food, and sustain livestock. Magnificent forests, like the Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia, are being set on fire to clear fields for palm oil plantations—a filler product used in 40 – 50% of our household products such as: shampoos; cosmetics; cleaning agents; toothpaste; instant noodles; ice cream; and packaged bread. The Leuser Ecosystem is the last place on earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos live in the same forest together. Where do we think these animals will go?
Did your parents influence your connection to Nature? Can you think of an example?
My memories from childhood are very tactile. Trying to get a grip on and kiss the trout that my Dad caught. Digging for roly poly bugs in the backyard. Boogie boarding for hours on end, and squishing anemones in the tide pools of Carpinteria. Breaking up beaver dams in Colorado. I think both my parents understood that nature itself could teach us things that they as humans could not.. how to fend for yourself, how to be humble, how to wonder and dream. I remember my Mom ripping us away from our homework one night, driving as far away from the town’s lights as she could, parking the car on a dirt road and climbing up on the roof under a blanket to watch the Hale Bop comet fly past. She and I also used to take yearly rafting trips on the Kern, just the two of us. One year, I was probably in middle school, we went off a steep drop and I flew out the back of the raft. I got caught in the underwater current at the bottom of that drop and could not make it up to the surface. I remember thinking I was going to die, truly. It was the first time I felt separated and independent from my parents. I thought about who I was, what my life had meant, and where I stacked up in the world. I may have only been under a minute, but a lot happened down there!
You were in Paris and at the Vatican with Mosaic of Change, tell me what that was like?
In fact, the Paris projections at UNESCO were unrelated to the Vatican projections! Except for crossover crew and creatives at Obscura Digital. About three years ago I co-founded an initiative called Mosaic of Change, with my friend Mia Hanak. Mia had curated art shows for UNESCO for almost a decade. We proposed a new digital visual communication platform to allow UNESCO to communicate their work and progress with dynamic data visualizations and fresh audio visual content. After 2+ years of negotiating, UNESCO made us their partner and asked that we come out to launch at their 70th Anniversary, November 16, 2015. We curated a massive show in two months, going through hundreds of hours of footage from UNESCO’s own archives, and soliciting additional photography and video from some of the best freelancers out there today. We worked with Obscura Digital, a San Francisco based digital technology company, to build an interactive media wall installation for UNESCO’s headquarters, and to create a projection show celebrating the organizations 70 year history.
The Vatican show was a total miracle, a collaboration between Oceanic Preservation Society (producers of Racing Extinction), and Obscura Digital. In 2011, while I was working on Racing Extinction, we had decided to do massive scale projections of endangered species on iconic buildings, as a marketing tool. These were meant to help promote the film. I went on a search around the world looking for a technology company to partner with and landed on Obscura, right here in San Francisco. Their ideas on what we could do with projection morphed and evolved to the point that they became part of the film, their creatives became characters, and a lasting relationship was formed between the activists at OPS and the Obscura team. As a result of Racing Extinction, the UNESCO project with Mosaic of Change, and then the Vatican, Obscura has really owned this path they are on. They have a whole concept behind the work they do now: #projectingchange, and its fun to think about where that will go next.
There is power in imagery alone, but experiencing that imagery together, with thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people as was the case in Rome, there is the potential for change. We experience other people’s energy when we are near them, and it is a force that multiplies. Maybe that’s why we still go to see movies in the theater, when we have the ability to watch everything at home. Shared experience is crucial to culture and progress. Can you imagine standing in Vatican City, packed in with strangers from seven continents, making animal noises together—unprompted, may I add—as the images of earth’s creatures illuminated St. Peters Basilica? It gives you chills to think about.
What is one simple way we can help children connect to Nature so that they might experience and protect it?
I think we have to remind ourselves, and most definitely our children, that nature doesn’t only exist in the pristine environment of a national park. We can’t stare at it from the outside, like we admire animals in a zoo. Nature is all around us. It’s the tree in the sidewalk in front of your house. What kind is it? When does it flower? What kind of seeds does it drop? We have to remember to see nature in our urban environments so that we don’t forget about it. And I think, in a very simple way, we have to sleep out under the stars a few times a year, to feel small in a vast space. Camping and backpacking can be so intimidating, but they instill a quiet confidence that you can’t get anywhere else.
What environmental causes inspire you?
The simplest personal choices are the most important. What we eat. What we buy. These are the most consequential and the easiest for us to effect! I learned working on Racing Extinction—if we ignore the small things: plankton and small nameless brown birds, and only focus on charismatic megafauna like elephants and whales, we won’t save it all. It’s like any hard task in life that we face, cleaning your house, for example. You can put away the piles of clothes and mail, take out the trash, but if you don’t take the time to mop the floor, or scrub the bathroom, is it really clean? We have to make the right choices within our scope, and as we do that, and talk about it, we inspire change in our friends and neighbors who see us, and then a larger group of people. Taken in mass these are the forces that change the world. Do not underestimate your power to change the world by becoming a vegetarian 😉
to view more of avajane’s landscape design work visit her tumblr site
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