YERT (2011) is a documentary that focuses on the concept of environmental sustainability and how this idea is being acted on by ecoactivists in all 50 states. To study this problem three filmmakers jammed themselves into a Ford Hybrid SUV and, except for traveling to Hawaii by air ( or so it is assumed), motored to every state, seeking out individuals and groups who are trying to find ways to live well by thoughtfully and creatively dealing with the problems of global climate change, resource consumption, carbon and garbage generation, food production and living arrangements.
The narrative is complicated by the fact that two of the filmmakers Julie and Ben Evans find themselves pregnant two months into the trip. Along with the third filmmaker, Mark Dixon, they suddenly are asking even harder questions about how they will complete their journey. Can Julie stay the course? Will she be willing to do the incredibly hard living that being crammed into a tiny SUV, filled with film equipment, food, clothing, two unshowered men and all their generated garbage, places upon her? As the filmmaker/researchers scour every state for answers to their environmental concerns, they meet people who open their houses to them every step of the way. They interview eco-pioneers, who through a variety of ways, are attempting to redefine the way Americans can live and prosper through intelligent restructuring of their work and lives.
YERT introduces us to people who study land issues, are ecoactivists, who promote well being through better eating, green farmers, windfarmers, green architects, ecovillage promoters, urban acricultural pioneers and a host of others who are all finding cutting edge ways to reimagine how living in the USA can be made greener and more sustainable. For example, the eco-travelers encounter Bill McKibben on his walk for climate change. They also explore the benefits of plant-covered green roofs in the Midwest, both on top of skyscrapers and assembly plants. The film explains that more than 3.5 million square feet of rooftops are now green.
The three examine alternative approaches to meeting our basic needs throughout their trip. They document housing innovations, for example, including mud huts in Nebraska, rock houses in Idaho, and Earth ships in New Mexico. They also explore alternative living conditions, including a communal eco-village in Ithaca, New York. Food is examined in multiple ways, as well, first in terms of its conflict with fuel in ethanol production, and then in relation to sustainable salmon fishing encouraged by Indigenous people in Washington state. They also visit Polyface Farms, where sustainable agriculture is practiced as an alternative to the industrial complex highlighted in films such as Food, Inc. (2009). Energy consumption takes center stage in many of the environmentally-friendly projects they visit, including a wind farm in Rosco, Texas and solar roadways made of garbage in the Southwest.
Basic questions about our individual environmental footprints are answered in complex ways as we are introduced to a variety of ideas, geographical solutions, inventions, philosophical and economic responses. We get a quick and new history of the USA along with visual representations of how varied the country is and how enormous its space remains. It's all done with humor, good cheer and open ended queries. There is no one answer to the dynamic problems presented to us by ever increasing global consumption, waste production and all the problems that these activities produce. But there are a lot of people out there working in a variety of ways to see what they can do to make changes that will have a positive impact on the land, air, water and people in this country.
YERT presents us with images of devastation as well as ones of hope. We see the destruction of mountain top removal and the lone protestor who refuses to leave his Appalachian homestead, though it cost him his marriage, most of his land and his heritage. YERT takes the time to personalize the struggles of individual Americans who see new avenues to solve intractable problems. It's not all pretty, but it is always interesting to see problems created over time that now need quick and efficient solutions. Cramming 50 states and hundreds of hours of filming down to a 113 minute film obviously means that the filmmakers had to make hard choices boiling down all their information into their feature length work. Except for the fact that we never see our explorers ever visit a gas station, their journey opens us up to all sorts of possibilities we might not ever imagine without taking a year's time to explore the country, look at it's problems, possibilities and the people who are thinking and acting on them.
YERT is a film that will never find national theatrical release, but it is winning awards at a number of film festivals and is being "roadshowed" all over the country to groups that want to see it. Hopefully it will make it to a national cable release so that millions of viewers will find out what happened to Julie Evans and her own personal adventure while she was making this film with her two eco-explorers. These three eco-travelers illustrate well how humans can become a "welcome species, not a dominant one."