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06/30/2006: "From Walmart to Banana Slugs and Brown Bears"

Walmart announces they're selling "organic" foods. The epidemic of diabetes and obesity threaten the longevity of the next generation. Scan the reviews, check the new releases and top sellers and you'll find books critiquing the food industry and exploring ethical eating and eating close to home. Open Arms is a film (in progress) about making sense of what is on your dinner plate and how it got there with a twist. Here's the angle: modern women in the Alaskan wilderness taking part in an ancient food chain stalking wild deer, goat and caribou to put clean, local, safe meat on their families' tables.

That's the latest intro on the latest version of a proposal for a documentary film, Open Arms.
In preparation for continuing this film, I went for a two or so hour hike this morning on Gavan Mountain. After all, these women hunting are not only able and willing to use guns, but they are athletic and fit. Hunting in the Alaskan wilderness is no matter of drive by shooting (ouch). I on the other hand, have to admit to a bookish and film watching tendency and a real need to be provoked to "exercise." So the unfunded project got me out the door into the foggy moist morning. However, if I was following the hunters, I might not have stopped to look closely at an albino banana slug, a curious red squirrel and what might have been a red-breasted sapsucker. I'm no naturalist, no bird watcher, I just want to live deeply in the place that goes in the address slot on film proposals, tax forms and what seems like for now, the occasional invoice for work for others. Furthermore, what I see out the window, where that slug is and the mail comes, is in or minutes away from the Tongass, the largest, most untouched national forest in the United States. We live here on an island where there also may be between 2,000 to 4,000 brown bears.

I also want to keep making films that provoke thought, trigger discussion and help me and perhaps a few others make sense of the world (I'm writing that because some moments I'm not so sure). "You'd say you were on the lower end of commercial spectrum?" a U.S. Forest Service Rep asks. "Yes," I say, happy that the Forest Service sees this project as away to give off a positive message about using and respecting the wilderness versus a high budget film shooting in the woods. No, my crew won't be creating a set, doing pyrotechnics or making much of an impact. In fact my characters donít give me a chance to reshoot, or ask for another take either. And I've always felt uncertain, a kind of ambivalence about filming in the wild. It seems bigger than the frame, more awe inspiring, and multi-dimensional than I can do justice to. I feel content, but small in the wild. Somehow when I was busy doing street photography in Los Angeles, or in the heavily populated and deforested islands in the West Indies, I felt oddly more comfortable with a camera, more at home in the man made, human dominated environment. Or maybe for some odd reason it felt, at the time, more intense and less recreational. So once again, picking a project leads me and maybe a few viewers to shift a little and rethink.