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Local Limelight: Weeklyish Articles Of Interest

Interview with Curt Ellis, Producer of The Greening Of Southie

Recently I went to a screening of The Greening Of Southie by Curt Ellis.  Curt is a local Portlander who also starred in and created the documentary, King Corn.  His latest documentary, The Greening Of Southie follows the people closest to the first green building construction in Boston and to those that live near it.

Video Clip
Website and DVD’s
Showtime:  Hollywood Theater, Saturday Oct, 18th and Sunday Oct 19th at 1 pm

Here is our conversation regarding being a producer, The Greening Of Southie, and about Portland.

What was your path to being a producer and filmmaker?
It started with King Corn after graduating college and being an environmentalist.  I was interested in finding a way to talk with people about what I’m passionate about, like the environmental fundamentals associated with food, clothing, water and shelter.  And, it seems like our country pays little attention to those fundamentals.  My cousin was a filmmaker who did some projects for PBS.  We talked bout doing a film together, which became King Corn.  King Corn tells the story of growing 1 acre of corn and its journey of becoming food.  While editing King Corn, Ian Cheney, who was on screen in King Corn with me, was looking into a project in Boston, which became The Greening Of Southie.

Why did you choose to do The Greening Of Southie?
It fits well in the fundamentals of life.  I spent time as a carpenter on the Oregon coast, the Adirondacks, and I also renovated a couple old Victorian houses in Portland.  The developer of the building was the first person to contact us, Tim Pappas.  He called about doing a time lapsed video of the building going up.  We said “how ‘bout a feature film instead?”  We met a lot of the people on the job and found a real human story going on which was more interesting than a shiny new green building.  The real story we wanted to tell was how people build a green building and how that might change their sense of environmentalism along the way.

Why Wayne?
Wayne loved the camera and always wanted to talk to us.  Wayne was there from start to finish so then we could build a relationship with him and see how the building would change him along the way. 

Did you encounter any challenges along the way?
About half way through the film and building process, we found that we had a really boring film on our hands.  It was pretty predictable what was going to happen.  They come in and put down a floor and there is a floor that works perfectly.  But, because this is a green building and the green technologies are new and relatively untested, that’s when things started going wrong and became interesting.  It wasn’t clear if the building was going get the Gold LEED rating they were going for.

The movie does a good job in describing the process of getting LEED certified.  What else do you want people to walk out with after watching The Greening Of Southie?
The subtext of the story that I think is interesting is that the people that build a green building shows they’re changed by the process.  In the course of 2 years of construction, everybody associated with the building from laborers sweeping up and recycling the debris, to construction managers who started a recycling program in their office, to the developer struggling to figuring out how to make this profitable.  Everyone associated with the building became more of an environmentalist, and it was amazing to see how people would take home those values.

Do you think their change of becoming more of an environmentalist occurred because of the documentary or because of building a green building?
It showed how much education was needed to happen in the system, which also shows the systems shortcoming.  In every job site, there are a couple hundred people that come and go.  If you communicate with them, they can take a real pride that their building is green.  Otherwise, it’s a missed opportunity.  I want the film to be used to educate unions and contractors because it shows real people dealing with real challenges.

How would you compare green building in Portland to Boston at the time of the film?
Portland was way ahead of Boston in the green building curve.  It’s great to see Boston have to catch up.  They passed an ambitious legislation that all buildings over a certain size are built green.  Portland is a leader in all things environmental, but how far into the heart of the country will it extend?  How do you make green building affordable to everybody, not just the trendy folks? 

When you come back to Portland, what 3 things do you have to go do, see or eat?
I got to go to the Portland farmers market downtown.
I have to see Mt. Hood from a good convenient spot
I like to have a cup of good coffee.  I’m a Stumptown man.

What’s next?
Ian Cheney is working on a documentary about Light Pollution and the fact that we can’t see the night sky anymore in cities.  And, I’m working on a documentary on industrial agriculture, which is a follow up on King Corn.

Website and DVD’s
Showtime:  Hollywood Theater, Saturday Oct, 18th and Sunday Oct 19th at 1 pm

Photos by Taylor Gentry

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