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Daniel Hinerfeld’s Blog

Acid Test with Sigourney Weaver premieres tonight!

Daniel Hinerfeld

Posted August 12, 2009 in Reviving the World's Oceans

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NRDC's film, Acid Test, with Sigourney Weaver, premieres tonight at 10:30pm ET/PT (channel finder) on Discovery Planet Green.  (Read USA Today's coverage of the film.)  Please tune in and spread the word.

We decided to make Acid Test about a year ago when it seemed no one outside of scientific circles had ever heard of ocean acidification.  Besides a few people who'd read Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker article, The Darkening Sea, folks just looked back blankly when I mentioned the term.  And yet acidification poses a fundamental challenge to life in the ocean -- and therefore to life on land.

We wanted to raise awareness, and with it, pressure on our policy makers to tackle the carbon pollution problem and better protect marine life.  Ocean lovers tend to be committed and resourceful people in my experience, and getting them engaged in the fight for a strong "climate bill" (we really should call it a "carbon bill") just might make the difference.

Our idea was simple on paper: present the latest science on ocean acidification from the mouths of the world's leading experts in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging.  We wanted viewers to realize that each of us has a momentous decision to make, and to feel motivated by that, not scared or hopeless.  Sounds easy enough.

But as we started to hear what the experts had to say, the goal of motivating audiences instead of depressing them started to seem nearly unattainable.  Our experts (Ken Calderia, Steve Palumbi, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Victoria Fabry, Bruce Steele, and NRDC's own Lisa Suatoni and Ralph Cavanagh) all believe it's possible to solve the carbon pollution problem if we really want to, but they all expressed deep concern that we'll collectively make that choice soon enough to avert serious harm to our world.  We wanted Acid Test to present that view honestly, not paper it over with Pollyanna enthusiasm.

Our biggest practical challenge was to find the resources, and our break came from the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which granted NRDC the core funds to make the film.  It's humbling, frankly, when a person or an institution believes in what you're doing enough to write you a large check.  Suddenly it was our job to spend that money wisely and to leverage it as much as possible - to make every dollar we had look like $1,000 on the screen.

That actually became possible when people like Howard and Michele Hall, two of the world's greatest underwater cinematographers, and Nel Boshoff, an amazing aerial cinematographer, offered us beautiful footage that we could never have shot or affordably licensed.  Again the word "humbling" comes to mind.  Many people from the worlds of Hollywood (e.g. Alan Horn and Kelly Meyer), science (e.g. Dick Feely, Dana Greely, Tony Haymet and the brilliant subjects who are actually in the film), and independent filmmaking (e.g. Wolfgang Bayer, the father of my co-director and Acid Test's DP, Tristan Bayer, and Tristan's colleagues at The Masses) happily did anything they could to help us make the best film possible.

When Sigourney agreed to narrate the film, and even go on camera for a couple of key moments, we knew the stars were aligning.  Sigourney is a committed advocate for the oceans and has a strong affiliation with NRDC - in fact she's a life-long friend of NRDC's president, Frances Beinecke (whom Sigourney says was the model for the character Ellen Ripley in the Alien series).

It was thrilling to direct Sigourney.  Not only is she a brilliant actress, but she cares deeply about environmental issues, and that is reflected in the power of her performance in Acid Test.  I have to admit, directing Sigourney was also a bit daunting, particularly when she responded to one suggestion by asking for a line reading.  Somehow I talked my way out of that one!  Sigourney actually ad-libbed what I consider one of the best lines in the movie. And even after watching the film dozens of times, her question at the end: "What will we choose?" sends chills down my spine.

At the core of Acid Test is an incredibly talented and committed group of people.  My co-director and our DP, Tristan Bayer; co-producer Erin Kiley; our editor Christopher Johnson; associate producers Lisa Whiteman and Lisa Suatoni; and production assistant, Sherry Goldberg. This group of people put in an amazing amount of work and creativity to make Acid Test, as did our team of composers, Kevin Haskins, Peter Distefano and Andrew Troy, and our visual effects supervisor, Jake Maymudes.

Discovery Planet Green agreed to air Acid Test on the basis of a very rough cut. Now our film is out there for millions of people to see.  All we hope is that it makes a difference.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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