James Cameron Goes Green

Huffpo logo ecoAmerica isn't the only group trying to reach Americans through emotional connections and beyond traditional environmental communications. At a benefit for NRDC, James Camerion discussed how he developed Avatar to reach a broad audience using resonant emotional messages. He intended the movie to be about changing perceptions and addressing "nature deficit disorder" (a term created by ecoAmerica Director, Rich Louv.

Posted Feb. 24, 2010
By Deborah Schoeneman, The Huffington Post

Last night, James Cameron took a break from the awards circuit to talk
about the praise and criticism from the environmental community about Avatar to benefit the Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC). The event, organized in less than a week, was spawned by
Cameron's wife, Suzy, who is a member of the NRDC Leadership Council.
KCRW quickly jumped aboard, with Elvis Mitchell, the host of KCRW's
program, "The Treatment,"
signing on to moderate the discussion with Cameron at the Zanuck
Theater at the Fox Studio Lot, after a 45-minute, 3-D screening of
clips from the blockbuster film. (Tickets were $125 for just the
conversation and $250 for the conversation plus a reception).

Cameron addressed how he designed his film to reach a global
audience by appealing to their emotional reaction to events in the
film–like when the Na'vis' tree was torched by the evil corporate
entity and fell on them as they fled for their lives. Previously he had
used his relatively small budget documentaries to address environmental
themes by presenting facts and figures to a self-selecting audience.

The theme of the moving starting and ending with Jake Sully's avatar
opening his eyes is symbolic. "The whole movie is about changing
perceptions," said Cameron, who added that we all suffer from nature
deficit disorder. "Avatar asked us all to be avatars for the
earth," said Cameron, who described himself as a "nature geek," with a
lifelong interest in creatures, flora and fauna–particularly
underwater.

"We live in denial," said Cameron. "All the negative curves are
happening, temperature is rising, the ocean is acidifying. We have an
arrogance and sense of impotence. We don't believe we can make change
and affect something as vast as atmosphere and oceans."

With Avatar, he wanted to portray that feeling for the
planet's challenges is a step in the right direction. "Hope is fertile
emotional soil to create action and heightened political awareness,"
said Cameron. "I wanted to create characters and have the audience walk
in their shoes."

Although he had top technology and the best artists working on his
film, he kept realizing that nature offered up the best ideas. "Every
time we came up with a great idea, nature had beat us," said Cameron.
"Nature is better than the best visual artist on the planet."

Cameron mentioned a screening of Avatar in Ecuador for the
country's indigenous people, the Shuar of the Amazon, whose life is
endangered by the government's oil drilling–a plight akin to the
Na'vi's struggle. The tribal elders who saw the movie said that while
they identified with the Na'vi, the Shuar don't believe in violence and
have never fought to keep their land. "I've been schooled," said
Cameron, earnestly. He also commended New Zealand for finding a way to
incorporate their native Maori into the country's culture.

Noting the irony of having the event on the Fox lot because of the
company's right wing leanings, Cameron said the people who run
corporations are not his targets. He has a bigger problem with the
corporate lobbying in the government. As for his own corporate parent,
he said Fox was far more interested in profit than ideology. "I never
had any pressure re ideology," said Cameron, though he was told to tone
down some of his environmental message, but he didn't cave.

Cameron believes the future of the environment depends on a
technological answer and a social rearrangement. "We need smart
energy," he said, to a round of applause.
The green Hollywood event ended with a standing ovation for Cameron and a video starring Leonardo DiCaprio and his celeb pals urging people to email their senators to pass the clean energy bill.

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