On October 11, Deia Schlosberg, the producer of my new film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, was arrested in Walhalla, North Dakota, while reporting on a climate-change protest. She was held for 48 hours before being allowed to speak to a lawyer. The authorities confiscated her footage. She is now charged with three counts of felony conspiracy and faces a possible sentence of up to 45 years.
For being a journalist.
Deia isn’t alone. The arrest of journalists, filmmakers, and others witnessing and reporting on citizen protests against fossil-fuel infrastructure amid climate change is part of a worrisome and growing pattern. Last month in North Dakota, a warrant was issued to arrest Amy Goodman, award-winning host of Democracy Now!, after she covered Native American–led protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Her footage of security guards attacking peaceful protesters with bloody-snouted dogs was viewed over 14 million times. She elected to go back to North Dakota this week to face the charges. Actor Shailene Woodley was arrested and jailed this week while leaving a protest at a construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline. She was singled out, the police told her, because she was well-known and had 40,000 people watching live on her Facebook page. Other filmmakers shooting protest actions along the pipeline have also been arrested.
All this should send chills down the spine of every documentary filmmaker and journalist.
Although the national media paid little attention to the climate-change protest that Deia and others attempted to report on, it was remarkable. A small group of activists in four states shut down all the pipelines carrying tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, into the United States. The protest responded to a call from the Standing Rock Sioux for international prayer and action on the growing climate emergency. Activists shut off emergency valves along the pipeline, their message being, “We are in a climate emergency now.”
If it were up to the mainstream media we wouldn’t know about this. I know, because I broke the story of fracking. It had been a crisis for years, but the media were ignoring it, which is why I decided to make my film Gasland.
As a relative newcomer to documentary filmmaking I am in awe of the bravery of documentarians. Doc filmmakers often break important stories and risk their lives and safety doing it. Laura Poitras’s reporting on Edward Snowden in Citizen Four, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s Restrepo, Alexandria Bombach’s Frame by Frame are just a few examples.