MAIN STREET ¬ó Tucked away in an office that caps O¬íBrien¬ís Irish Pub & Restaurant, a green revolution is fomenting.
It¬ís led by husband-wife filmmaking team Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, a couple which mixes thorough research with daring investigation to create documentaries that explore the relationship between Americans and what they believe is one of our biggest addictions ¬ó fossil fuels.
Perhaps it¬ís fitting then that they met over a car.
Tickell grew up in Louisiana, the state that processes 60 percent of the nation¬ís oil. He watched friends and family become ill in ¬ìCancer Alley,¬î the section of the state with the highest concentration of oil processing facilities, which spurred his interest in alternative fuels.
He decided to spread the gospel of biodiesel using a car called the ¬ìVeggie Van,¬î which he drove across the nation, teaching people how to make the switch and even produce their own biodiesel.
A decade before they met in person, Harrell Tickell saw the ¬ìVeggie Van¬î on one of its stops. Life led both of them to Southern California, where she saw the van parked in a driveway and decided to introduce herself.
It was a fateful choice.
¬ìI decided to devote my life to using film and entertainment to inspire people, to transform their view of the world especially around alternative fuels, renewable, replacement fuels,¬î Harrell Tickell said.
Though the ¬ìVeggie Van¬î was an effective marketing tool for biodiesel, Tickell got sick of giving the same speech to a new audience at every stop. Film represented a way to condense that information into a slick 90-minute package so the background information was out of the way, and the viewer can move straight to action.
¬ìWhen you¬íre watching a movie, your brain can¬ít discern whether it¬ís real life or just the movie. It¬ís a way to have a starting point, to have a real conversation,¬î Harrell Tickell said.
With their mission in mind, Santa Monica seemed the natural location to set up shop. City Hall broke major ground with its environmental initiatives like the ban on single use plastic bags and the decision to switch city fleet vehicles to compressed natural gas and other alternative fuels.
Santa Monica is a ¬ìradio tower,¬î Tickell said, a place that other municipalities look to for inspiration and ideas.
It also provides unparalleled opportunities for outreach.
Screenings have resulted in major celebrities like Jason Mraz and Laura Dern, who played the female lead in ¬ìJurassic Park,¬î rallying to their causes.
¬ìYou make a movie about an oil spill and then a famous actor wants to build a green playground. There¬ís no predictability about it, but it does make a difference,¬î Tickell said, referencing Green Planet Production¬ís newest movie, ¬ìThe Big Fix.¬î
Through their films and their lifestyle, the couple tries to prove that reducing our impact on the planet can be a painless experience.
They drive an electric car, but most days just walk 10 blocks from their home in Venice to their office in Santa Monica. Their brainstorming room has a large skylight that filters in natural light most of the day, saving them from flipping the switch unless they¬íre working late into the night.
When this reporter¬ís tape recorder ran out of batteries, Tickell came with rechargeables, nicely pointing out that ¬ìevery major brand makes them now.¬î
It¬ís that ¬ìcan-do¬î attitude and provision of simple, effective solutions that make Green Planet Production¬ís films so popular.
Their first film, ¬ìFuel,¬î won the audience¬ís ¬ìBest Documentary¬î award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Their most recent film, ¬ìThe Big Fix,¬î was released a week ago. It¬ís already the ninth most popular documentary on the iTunes Store.
¬†¬ìThe Big Fix,¬î follows in the first film¬ís footsteps by highlighting a different facet of America¬ís damaged relationship with oil: The sway that wealthy oil companies have on in the highest halls of our government.
The movie chronicles the oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 after an explosion on the drilling rig ¬ìDeep Water Horizon¬î unleashed millions of gallons of crude on the delicate marine environment.
Unlike most accounts of the disaster, however, the movie doesn¬ít spend much time dwelling on how the explosion happened or which company ¬ó BP, which contracted it, or its owner Transocean ¬ó holds the blame for what happened.
Instead, it picks up the trail in the coastal communities in Louisiana after government officials declared the cleanup complete, when the lives of those who depended on those waters for their recreation and livelihoods were supposed to go back to normal.
The remaining hour of the finished piece lays out brutal evidence that not only was there still oil marring the formerly pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico, BP, the company ultimately responsible for the cleanup, was actively covering up its existence with at least some help from the United States government.
The film shows machines combing the sand to cover up thick swatches of oil on the beach, and the shiny film of oil floating on the water where fishermen were pulling in the catch of the day even as officials pull up in boats to chase off the documentary team.
It also demonstrates the impact that the oil, and methods used to contain the spill, had on locals¬í health.
The Environmental Protection Agency OK¬íd the use of Corexit, a chemical dispersant, to clean up the mess left by the spill. Corexit, however, is toxic to humans and wildlife.
People living near the water developed lesions and respiratory problems, ailments the film suggests were caused by the heavy use of the chemical in the Gulf.
Harrell Tickell herself became ill after prolonged exposure in the course of the 18 months she and her husband spent in Louisiana collecting footage after all of the other news vans had left.
In the end, the film doesn¬ít ask if people and the environment are suffering as a result of the spill, but why the government didn¬ít do more to rein in the company ultimately responsible for the mess before the accident, and why it has ignored clear signs that the oil is still causing problems in the Gulf of Mexico.
The short answer the filmmakers put forward is a simple one ¬ó the vast amount of money that large corporations are capable of pumping into the pockets of politicians, particularly in campaign season.
Tickell and Harrell Tickell¬ís movies dig down into the broad, more abstract causes of problems like the oil spill, one of the reasons Santa Monica High School marine biology teacher Benjamin Kay shows his students films like ¬ìThe Big Fix.¬î
¬†¬ìI think it¬ís pointing out one of the central issues of our society,¬î Kay said. ¬ìBig corporations do have money, power and influence, and that is probably one of the key things that the students and I discussed after seeing the film.¬î
Kay shows all three Green Planet Production films to his students, and got a screening of ¬ìThe Big Fix¬î with the filmmakers themselves.
The power of Green Planet Production¬ís work is twofold. With one hand, it points to the problems in the world, the vast injustices wreaked on the planet by oil companies and other powerful industries that destroy in search of a buck.
With the other, it offers workable solutions that allow the average citizen to fight back.
After showing ¬ìFuel¬î to his class, one student went home and started making biodiesel in her garage, Kay said.
¬ìIt¬ís very empowering,¬î Kay said. ¬ìIf we could just do ¬ëthis,¬í think of all the problems we could solve.¬î
To that, Tickell and Harrell Tickell can say, ¬ìmission accomplished.¬î