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Escape From Suburbia: beyond the American dream

Canadian Director Gregory Greene has delivered again, this time raising the bar with his much anticipated film "Escape From Suburbia," a sequel to his 2004 award-wining documentary "The End of Suburbia."

This follow-up focuses on the citizen and community responses that Peak Oil awareness has fomented across North America—an awareness that has seen tremendous growth over the last few years, in large part due to the success of his first film that many individuals organized their own non-profit screenings of for family and friends and even their local communities. These screenings took place across the planet in both private and public settings, from hospitable homes to community halls.

"Escape From Suburbia" plans to build on that success and reach out to an ever-growing environmentally-aware audience which has, until now, been more focused on global warming than on oil depletion, a counter-intuitive phenomenon observed and commented on throughout the film by the likes of David Suzuki and Elizabeth May (leader of Canada's Green Party).

The message in this film has moved past the identification and understanding of a problem and toward an analysis of it and how people can take action toward solving the problem. The overall message conveyed in this film is one of hope and optimism, but only if the viewer puts into motion solutions through their own actions. This notion was succinctly articulated in the film by the quote, "'Action encourages optimism."

The single most-noticeable difference this time around is the absence of the original host, Barry Zwicker. This means there is no single, credible tone vocalizing the movie's message, but rather a number of sincere, on-the-spot dialogues given by everyday individuals from disparate backgrounds. This proves to be an effective communication tool that easily weaves resounding thoughts with resonating emotions resulting in strongly-forged connections between the material and the viewer.

In keeping with the style of the first film, there are numerous flashbacks to promotional video and cartoons dating back to the 50s and 60s where predictions of a grandiose future are envisioned as a world that will always have more. This footage provides a time-capsuled reality check showing how there was never any consideration given to a future with less.

These flashbacks also contrasted heavily with other archival footage that was taken from the 70s during the oil embargos when people did vocalize their concerns over resource limitations and how planning ahead would be prudent. The point was further driven home by James Howard Kunstler's sentiments when he flatly states, "We are more clueless now than we were in the days of Gerald Ford. . . . It may be the one thing that really undoes us eventually, our simple failure to pay attention."

A focal point for the film came in the way of food security with the question being raised multiple times, "How are we going to feed everyone," especially in the face of dwindling oil supplies and energy disruptions. A number of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms and co-ops were visited in both rural and metropolitan areas, including an LA South Central farm that was covered in-depth.

The only shortcoming of the film was the absence of discussion over global population growth and the effect that will have on resource use on our planet. We can introduce as many efficiency and conservation programs as we want but it won't make one iota of difference if the population continues to grow and outpace the mitigation measures being taken. This point has largely been ignored by our policy makers, especially when it comes to plans on addressing global warming.

With that aside, this prescient film is a must see. Passing on an opportunity to watch this would be a disservice to yourself and your community. A number of screenings are scheduled for across North America this summer. A western Canada premiere in Vancouver will be taking place on August 17th at 7:30pm at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (154 East 10th Ave , or 10th and Main).

Tickets can be purchased online. For more information check out escapefromsuburbia.com.

I spoke with the director Gregory Greene about his own personal conversion to the Peak Oil cause.

Republic: Where and when did you first learn about Peak Oil?

Gregory Greene: I didn't know a thing about Peak Oil until I met Barry Silverthorne, who approached me in May of 2003 with an idea to produce a documentary on the subject. He sent me off to Paris to shoot the second annual ASPO (the Association for the Study of Peak Oil) conference and so I received a crash course in oil depletion, and the gravity of the situation facing the planet as demand for petroleum begins to exceed the supply over the coming years.

Republic: Do you have involvement in your own local community, if so what kind of involvement?

Greene: I live in the old industrial section of Toronto, "Liberty Village," and interest in Peak Oil, and our "addiction to oil" in general amongst the artist and activist community in my neighbourhood has been increasing. Personally, I try to inject a discussion on the combined consequences of Peak Oil and climate change into every neighbourhood forum we have: raising awareness (which usually means confronting people's denial), and looking at practical solutions we can implement at the local level. Perhaps because of all the denial and misinformation we have directly experienced from big institutions (government, business) I believe that action at the local and municipal levels is where citizens can find traction and create strategies for change.

Republic: Do you have plans in place for documenting a full-blown oil disruption when one does occur? What's next for you?

Greene: We are presently beginning pre-production on the third documentary in our trilogy, and one of the things we try to do is of course keep the message relevant to people. We realize that between now and 2009, when our new film will be released, there is a very high possibility that the oil crisis we are predicting may begin, so we are planning flexibility in our story structure to respond to that. Our third film will focus on works like Ronald Wright's Massey Lecture-inspired book "A Short History of Progress" and Jared Diamond's "Collapse," looking at how civilizations rise and fall. How will our globalized civilization, which is entirely dependent on fossil fuels for food, transportation and energy, respond to oil depletion and the consequences of climate change? Is our denial of Peak Oil the wild card which will cause the collapse of our civilization? And what can be done by communities to solve the coming crisis locally and regionally, using the natural strengths of their unique bioregions?

Republic: Is there one particular change that you have made to your own life because of Peak Oil?

Greene: There are many changes I have made in my own life as my awareness of these issues has grown. The first is of course orienting my own work to raise awareness of Peak Oil, which as a media worker is an obvious step. Cutting down use of my car (yep I drive), eating less meat and imported produce (yep I still eat some meat, and I indulge in my favourite imported salad green—arugula—when it is out of season here) by buying at local farmer's markets, and buying carbon offsets from Toronto-based CarbonZero for our films. My French partner and I are slowly taking our house in France off the grid and growing our own vegetables (maybe chickens some day!), and so powering down our lives gradually. Ultimately that will require me to travel much less than I do presently, and so I am preparing to move to France full-time by 2012, which is a sort of "target date" for me."

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