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Uphill Climb

24 Aug, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner


When David Brower began hiking and rock climbing for recreation in the 1930s, he had no idea the trails he followed would lead him to activism.

What began as a hobby blossomed first into a filmmaking passion, then into a career of activism that raised a generation's awareness of human impact on the environment, introduced Americans to the term “ecology” and catapulted the lethargic Sierra Club to the forefront of environmental activism.

Filmmaker Kelly Duane, who met Brower late in his life, went on a treasure hunt in search of Brower's history, the films he shot and the reminiscences of his contemporaries. The result is First Run Features' Monumental, out on DVD Sept. 20.

“I am actually from a family that has been in lumber for generations,” she said. “They were about to shoot me when they found out I was doing a film about Brower.”

Although she shot new footage of the wilderness areas Brower helped to save as national parks, Duane relies heavily on Brower's own film work to capture his physical and intellectual journey, even striking a bargain with the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, for early access to his raw footage.

“They are largely just sort of forgotten films,” she said. “One of the things that I think was so special about finding them is it gives you the opportunity to see these places through David Brower's eyes; you get to go on these adventures through his eyes. I felt like I really wanted to keep you in the time period and to use his films and keep you in that time. ... I felt this footage had the power of nostalgia.”

The film tells how Brower used the power of those images to give many Americans, including Ladybird Johnson, their first look at some of America's greatest natural wonders. In doing so he recruited support to save the Giant Redwoods, Point Reyes National Seashore and the Grand Canyon, among other landmarks.

Duane hopes that telling Brower's story will spread his idea of a “geography of hope.”

“Maybe we don't ever go to Alaska, but it's good to know it's there,” she said. “What I hope is that if you see [Brower's films] and see places that you care about, you will be part of the environmental movement. I just wanted to awaken people's own connection with the wilderness.”

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