Tag Archives: Robert Redford

Fierce Green Fire a valentine to Planet Earth

Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson

Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson cradles a harp seal pup to protect it from Canadian sealers in a shot from “American Masters: A Fierce Green Fire,” airing tonight on many PBS affiliates.


In a powerful scene from A Fierce Green Fire, a powerful Earth Day special from American Masters that is airing tonight on most PBS affiliates, environmental demonstrators march through the streets carrying placards bearing a stark message: “There is no Planet B.”
That neatly sums up the point of view in Mark Kitchell’s critically acclaimed one-hour documentary, which looks back on 50 years of environmental activism on both a grassroots and global scale. If anything, the subject begs for a more expanded treatment, but the film does a splendid job of maintaining its breakneck pace while moving smoothly from one topic to another.
A Fierce Green Fire takes its title from a line in A Sand Country Alamanac, a 1949 documentary from a pioneering ecologist and former forest ranger who writes of finding a wolf he had shot: “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.”
I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself from that devastating image, but Kitchell’s documentary uses the phrase in a positive context, referring to the vital ecosystems that — at least for now — are struggling to keep Earth healthy and vital. In fact, this special suggests, many people probably got their first reality check in the late 1960s and early ’70s when they began to see photos of a shining blue Earth, wrapped in sweeping clouds, as taken from the surface of the planet’s bleak and arid moon.
A Fierce Green Fire is divided into five “acts,” each with a different narrator. The first, narrated by Robert Redford, focuses on the conservation movement of the 1960s, which saw the Sierra Club and its charismatic executive director, David Brower, waging a strenuous yet ultimately successful attack to halt the construction of dams in the Grand Canyon. The most depressing part of this segment is the reminder that, if you think the deplorable trend of putting non eco-friendly candidates into environmental political posts is a new thing, think again. It’s been that way for years.
The special then moves into the 1970s, as Ashley Judd narrates a look at growing public awareness of pollution. That topic reached a flashpoint in the latter part of the decade with the Love Canal debacle in upstate New York. This segment, which I found the most riveting in the film, throws the spotlight on Lois Gibbs, a mad-as-hell housewife and mother in the community who refused to be blown off by politicians and galvanized her neighbors into taking action against the toxic industrial waste that was causing sickness and skyrocketing birth defects among their families.
Environmental advocate Van Jones narrates act three, which looks at emerging “alternative” ecology groups such as Greenpeace and the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, then Chilean novelist Isabel Allende presents an homage to martyred activist Chico Mendes, who gave his life to protect the Amazon rain forest.
Meryl Streep takes over as narrator for the final act of A Fierce Green Fire, a power punch devoted to climate change. There’s not a lot in this segment that will come as a revelation to most viewers, although it’s depressing to realize yet again how deeply commercial interests are controlling and gutting any attempts at meaningful legislation in Washington, D.C.
As the recently deceased climate scientist Stephen Schneider remarks in an archival interview, it’s “a hell of a way to run a planet.”
As always with PBS programming, check your local listings to confirm air date and time in your area.
Love Canal housewife Lois Gibbs

Lois Gibbs, an infuriated housewife with sick children, is among the formidable activists spotlighted in “A Fierce Green Fire,” airing tonight on PBS

A riveting return to Watergate

Discovery Channel
I’ve long considered All the President’s Men, the Oscar-winning 1976 chronicle of the Watergate affair and its fallout as reported by Washington Post writers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, to be one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Even if you don’t share that opinion, however, you’re almost certain to be spellbound by All the President’s Men Revisited, a riveting two-hour special premiering tonight on Discovery Channel.
Narrated by Robert Redford, who played Woodward in the feature film and serves as executive producer on this special, this fascinating documentary assembles many of the key figures from that surreal moment in presidential history – including a very eloquent John Dean, who was President Richard Nixon’s lawyer – to offer their viewpoint on this mind-boggling two-year event, with the invaluable clarity that comes from four decades of reflection.
The Watergate affair and its implications have been parsed so repeatedly over the years that you shouldn’t tune in expecting any major new bombshells. What this new special delivers in spades, however, is context that may have you looking at some of these events in a different light. Several of the talking heads, for example, keep shaking their heads at Nixon’s absolutely staggering propensity for denial. In an archival interview, former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater talks about going to the Oval Office not long before Nixon was forced to resign in order to give the president a badly needed reality check about the looming threat of impeachment. He found Nixon relaxed and cheerful, still convinced that he somehow would be able to make this whole mess just go away. Republican strategist Mary Matalin acknowledges that Nixon’s actions seem to suggest a man who was simply losing his grip on reality, what interviewer David Frost later would call “his dislocated relationship with truth.”
It was Redford, who watched the Watergate hearings addictively during breaks in filming The Great Gatsby, who first saw the movie potential in the story even as Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation was in progress. Studios at first were skeptical; after all, how compelling could a film about two journalists writing really be? Redford, however, instinctively recognized that, at its heart, All the President’s Men would be an edge-of-the-seat thriller.
All the President’s Men was a very violent movie,” he says. “People were out to kill each other, and the weapons were telephones, typewriters and pens.”
To convey how joined at the hip Woodward and Bernstein became during their lengthy investigation, Redford and Dustin Hoffman, who played Bernstein, memorized the dialogue of both their characters for their scenes together, so they could appear spontaneously to finish each other’s sentences. The two actors’ warm recollections of working together on the film are among the highlights of this documentary.
All the President’s Men Revisited also contains a segment speculating on how the Watergate story would unfold today in a news world driven by Twitter and other social media, as well as bloggers with no professional training. That verdict, not surprisingly, is mixed: The story probably would break faster, but it would be hard for any journalist today to afford the luxury of extensive research and investigation to build a story as painstakingly as Woodward and Bernstein did.
When Discovery Channel scheduled this special, they had no way of knowing it would air just a few days after last week’s tragic events at the Boston Marathon and the ensuing farce of major news organizations falling all over themselves in a frenzy to be the first to report any updates, even if that information turned out to be wrong. Forty years ago, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein helped protect the republic from a man whom some in the special call “the Imperial President,” and they did it by taking every pain to ferret out the truth. Looking at the news profession today, it’s sobering to be reminded that it’s no longer a precision motor vehicle but a clown car with the wheels coming off.