David Becker participated in the Sundance Institute Independent Producers Conference for his film Small Steps: Creating the High School for Contemporary Arts, which went on to air nationally on PBS. He also coordinated the restoration and re-release of Barbara Kopple’s landmark documentary Harlan County, USA, which screened at the 2005 Festival.
I’m writing from upstate New York, where the devastating effects of Hurricane Irene can still be seen all around: uprooted trees, downed power lines, the mud and mess left behind by flooded rivers. Many people are still without electricity. But slowly the stores on Main Streets are opening up again, power is being restored, and life in the Catskills moves on. This was an historic weather event, but the power of nature—both good and bad—is nothing new to the people of this region.
For the past two years, I’ve been exploring the relationship between the people of the Catskill Mountains and the nature that surrounds them. Last summer, a crew of filmmakers, musicians, and artists traveled to the Catskills and moved into a little red cabin, once used by the writer Jack London. We were there to make a film, To Be Forever Wild.
Over the course of the past two summers, we’ve filmed people interacting with nature throughout the Catskills. This is the landscape that inspired the first homegrown American artistic tradition, the Hudson River School of painting. For generations the Catskills have captured people’s imagination, provided relief from daily life, and inspired a love of wilderness.
In To Be Forever Wild we meet hikers, artists, cliff-jumpers, farmers, naturalists, philosophers, and dreamers. We find in the people that we meet—and in our own experience as a crew, which is also documented in the film – that reconnecting with nature is not only life changing and enriching, but also a strong foundation for personal development, artistic inspiration, and environmental protection.
We were something of an unconventional crew. Many of us are professional filmmakers, but for some this was their first shoot. Others aren’t filmmakers at all – several musicians, a still photographer, a painter from Siberia. During the day we filmed with people throughout the Catskills; at night we had bonfires and played (and recorded) music. Often the people we met that day would join in.
This film has been a community effort from day one. We opened up a production office in the small Catskills town of Saugerties. The crew volunteered their time and equipment, local farmers donated boxes of vegetables, and a local bakery donated bagels and eggs for breakfast every morning. Area students have been interning with us and are helping to organize all the footage.
Kickstarter was the logical extension of the community effort that surrounds this film. We are reaching out to the independent film community, the Catskills community, and those concerned with the environment – as well as the ever-growing world of Kickstarter – to help us complete the film. Reaching our goal on Kickstarter will allow us to edit the film, start our outreach campaign, and submit to film festivals around the country.
At the heart of To Be Forever Wild are the people we meet. They range in age from 8 to 80, but they all share a passion for the natural world. Their stories are surprising, inspiring, and unforgettable. More often than not, their passion for the nature around them has become their life and defines them as people.
As we have seen so clearly in recent days, nature also has a powerful dark side. Some of the people we meet in the film have come face to face with that side of the story – people like Stephen Tuomey of the Haines Falls Rescue Squad. In ordinary times, Stephen and his volunteer squad rescue people who fall or are injured in the mountains. The past few days, they’ve helped to rescue people from their own homes as floodwaters overtook them.
As the Catskills region and others along the East Coast clean up in the wake of Hurricane Irene, we are reaching the final two weeks of our Kickstarter campaign. In some ways it’s an awkward time to be raising money for a film. But overall this past week has strengthened our resolve to share the stories of the Catskill Mountains and the people who live here.
We hope you’ll join our film adventure and help us complete the film by supporting our Kickstarter campaign. We can’t wait to share their inspiring stories with you and audiences in the Catskills and far beyond.