THIRTEEN’s American Masters series presents the first big-picture exploration of the environmental movement in A Fierce Green Fire, premiering nationally Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 9-10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) in honor of Earth Day.
The one-hour documentary chronicles one of the largest movements of the 20th century, and one of the keys to the 21st.
Written, directed and produced by Academy Award-nominee Mark Kitchell (Berkeley in the Sixties), American Masters: A Fierce Green Fire spans 50 years of grassroots and global activism from the 1960s-2009 and connects the major causes of environmentalism, from conservation to climate change. Narrated by Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Ashley Judd, Van Jones and Isabel Allende, the film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and has won acclaim worldwide.
Inspired by the book of the same name by environmental journalist and film interviewee Philip Shabecoff, and informed by advisors like conservation biologist E.O. Wilson, A Fierce Green Fire unfolds in five acts, each with a central story and character, featuring vivid archival footage and new interviews that shed light on the battle for a living planet. The first four acts include success stories of people fighting for causes against enormous odds, and the fifth concludes with climate change.
Act 1, narrated by Redford, focuses on the conservation movement of the 1960s, the Sierra Club and its Executive Director David Brower’s battle to halt dams in the Grand Canyon. Act 2, narrated by Judd, looks at pollution in the 1970s, spotlighting the fight led by film interviewee Lois Gibbs and other Love Canal (Niagara, N.Y.) residents to save their children from toxic waste. Act 3, narrated by Jones, features alternative ecology strands like Greenpeace and its famous campaigns to save whales and baby harp seals, including interviews with co-founders Paul Watson and Rex Weyler. Act 4, narrated by Allende, charts the rise of global resource crises in the 1980s with the struggle to save the Amazon rainforest, led by Chico Mendes and his fellow Brazilian rubber tappers, as its centerpiece. Act 5, narrated by Streep, tackles climate change and the 25-year effort to address this ongoing, global problem, featuring author/activist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, a movement dedicated to solving the climate crisis.
The film’s title is derived from pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949), which describes his awakening after shooting a wolf while working as a U.S. Forest Service ranger: “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.”
“The environmental movement is the biggest movement the world has ever seen, yet so broad and diffuse that we lack a larger sense of what it was about,” explains Kitchell. “A Fierce Green Fire is meant to take stock, explore the historical meaning, where we’ve come from and where we’re heading. A hugely ambitious undertaking, it has proved to be the greatest challenge of my career.”
“A Fierce Green Fire furthers the story of the environmental movement that American Masters began exploring in 2011 with John Muir in the New World, which won an Emmy,” said Stephen Segaller, executive-in-charge of American Masters and vice president of programming for WNET. “The film is a series first because there is no ‘American Master,’ per se. Instead, we are featuring a movement made up of individuals and organizations worldwide that have left an indelible impression on America’s cultural landscape, and beyond.”
Launched in 1986 by series creator Susan Lacy, American Masters has earned 26 Emmy Awards – including nine for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors.
Now in its 28th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations, and operator of NJTV. For more than 50 years, THIRTEEN has been a partner with the tri-state community, using its rich resources to inform and inspire the passionate people of New York and the world to better understand and address the issues that challenge our diverse communities.
To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories and personalities of masters past and present, the companion website offers streaming video of select films, interviews, photos, outtakes, essays, and other resources. American Masters is also seen on the WORLD channel, a 24/7, full-service multicast channel featuring public television’s signature nonfiction documentary, science and news programming, broadcast in nearly two-thirds of the United States.
A Fierce Green Fire is a production of Mark Kitchell. Mark Kitchell is director, producer and writer. Marc N. Weiss is executive producer. Ken Schneider, Veronica Selver, Gary Weimberg, Jonathan Beckhardt and Robert Dalva are editors. Vicente Franco is cinematographer. Original music is by George Michalski, David Denny, Garth Stevenson, Randall Wallace and Todd Boekelheide. For American Masters: Susan Lacy is executive producer. Stephen Segaller is executive-in-charge.
American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Jack Rudin, Vital Projects Fund, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers. Funding for A Fierce Green Fire is provided in part by Gould Family Foundation; Farvue and Wallace Genetic Foundations; Sundance Institute Documentary Program and Fund with the Wallace Global Fund; California Council for the Humanities; Rick Rosenthal & Nancy Stephens; Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation; LEF Foundation; Nu Lambda Trust; Patagonia; Josephine Merck; Joshua Mailman; David Greenberg; Fred Gellert Family Foundation; Marion Hunt; Charlie Pendergast; James Kimo Campbell; Dan Gabel; Susan Schindler; Gary Ferdman; Steven Cohen; Sam & Betty Kitchell; and Tides Foundation.