Chuck Jaffee: ‘The Burden’ may be most important film at Wild & Scenic
January 7, 2016
[Editor's Note: This is the third of a four-part series of "Prospector" reviews leading up to the 14th Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City and Grass Valley, Jan. 14-18.
"The Burden" may be the most important single film experience of the 14th Wild & Scenic Film Festival. Instead of a review, the following is extracted from an exchange with the director, Roger Sorkin. This film is about the largest consumer of oil in the world. It doesn't take sides about the US military or politics. It's about the practical guts of decision making on a huge scale.
Chuck Jaffee: Do the military higher-ups have any official position about your film or at least the directives espoused in your film?
Roger Sorkin: I don't know of anything official. If you take their presence at public events as support … an absence may indicate no comment. Active duty leaders are careful what they say at events. They're trying to lighten their [operational] load, reduce their casualties transporting and defending fuel. They'll explore alternatives so they can become a better fighting force…. [There are] very clear definitions of what your job is and people don't stray, as they say, from their lane.
CJ: If millions (billions?) of dollars are already being spent by the military on alternative-fuel-related development and implementation, is this an indisputable ramping up of a fundamental shift?
RS: Because of the military's enormous scale and the amount of money from the federal budget, any time they decide something is important and they give it priority, it could contribute to a fundamental shift. The defense industry just wants contracts with margins of certainty — [for instance, that the] fleet must have a certain fuel economy by a certain year…. There could be a fundamental shift but in the political process, it's too politically risky to stand up and declare this is what we need to do.
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CJ: Which is a tougher sell: getting the military to act radically environmentalist or getting environmentalists to enlist the military as an ally?
RS: [Perhaps it's] cynical, but follow the money. If there's economic opportunity, everything else will fall in line. [We need to talk to] people where they are. There are people concerned about the effectiveness of our military, people who will care that we lose too many soldiers getting fuel to them and protecting the fuel and spending too much money doing it. Missions get distracted by fuel needs.
CJ: Why is "The Burden" all about practical, tactical, and transformations within the powerful forces of the system?
RS: One of the best pieces of advice early on came from a special assistant for strategy at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said to stay away from the doom and gloom. He said it as a military engineering guy and a graduate in behavioral science. He said don't scare people. It causes them to contract; you want to inspire people to act.
CJ: Do you ever get sniffed as a subversive?
RS: I believe in what I'm doing, so I don't care if a person is a conservative or way to the left. The truth is the same. It can unite disparate parts of the political spectrum. I challenge anyone on the left or the right: Do you pay taxes? Then you're responsible. You're obliged to help with the solution.
Chuck Jaffee of Grass Valley likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at http://www.startlets.com.