CARBON NATION DIRECTOR PETER BYCK TALKS TV, FAMILY AFFAIRS AND OUR CHILDREN'S FUTURE
By Kristen Lepore
When Peter Byck set out to make a documentary about climate control, he had no idea it would take more than three years to complete. Yet with Carbon Nation finally hitting theaters, he hopes to build a coalition—including a TV series.
“I certainly would never start a documentary if I knew how long it took. I wouldn’t,” said Byck. “I guess I’m blissfully naïve when I start projects. They always take so much longer than you think.”
Fortunately, he did start the project and the outcome is an in-depth, solutions-based look at climate change. But what distinguishes this film from its counterparts such as An Inconvenient Truth is that it doesn’t care whether or not viewers believe humans are causing global warming. Having interviewed 326 people for the film, Byck said one character in particular helped him come to this conclusion. And that character is a “crazy Alaskan” named Bernie Karl.
“[Bernie] is big, he’s intense and he hates waste. He loves clean water, he loves clean air, he hates smoke stacks—and he doesn’t think humans are the cause of climate change,” said Byck. “When I realized you can have those things all in one person, that gave me a lot of confidence that this story actually held a lot of weight and power because it was working for so many different people towards the same goal.”
Although Byck was wholeheartedly invested in the film serving as director, producer and writer, it was his wife, producer Chrisna Van Zyl, and Carbon Nation’s associate producer Michael Cochran that discovered Karl—which turned out to be quite the turning point in creating the film. Had they not, Byck said editor Eric Driscoll may have completely walked away from the production. With the first year of shooting mainly dedicated to research, Driscoll began to feel the weight of topic with a lot of “dark” and “overwhelming” information thrown his way. But with Karl’s inspiring story, Driscoll stuck with it and almost three years later, the Carbon Nation team is dedicated to promoting the movie across the country. And once they’re done, they have hopes of using it as a pilot for a TV series as well.
Byck is no stranger to TV—or film for that matter. His first documentary, Garbage, won the South by Southwest Film Festival in 1996. He later went on to editing documentaries for Peter Jackson’s King Kong and The Matrix Revisited. With a list of impressive credentials under his belt, Byck faced new challenges when filming Carbon Nation—for instance, working with his wife, which he said began as a two-week trail. “Basically, what that meant was can I keep my snippiness down to a level of tolerance for her because she’s just not that way,” Byck said. “I think I did a decent job at it. But it keeps you on your toes.”
Chrisna Van Zyl isn’t the only family member who had an impact on the film. In an enduring closing scene, Byck’s father, Dann Byck Jr., who passed away in March 2009, is featured in Sequoia National Park in Calif. Byck’s dad was his best friend and present through many of the ups and downs of filming.
“Certainly my experience with making documentaries, there is a lot of serendipity. There is a lot of, if you just jump off a cliff, interesting things come at you,” said Byck.
Coincidentally, two characters in Carbon Nation, Van Jones and Amory Lovins, experienced the loss of their fathers as well during filming. And when Byck’s dad was diagnosed with cancer, the father-son theme became that much more real. But regardless of his personal struggles during the production, Byck maintains a smile and notes the apropos of it all.
“I wanted to dedicate it to my dad—the film, at least a dedication—and then the team was like, three people had babies while making this film (producer Karen Weigert, editor Driscoll and Byck’s wife, Van Zyl), so we were like let’s dedicate it to the kids [instead],” said Byck.
A dedication to the crew’s children seems all too appropriate for a film about the future of our earth. So with all these great ideas and solutions identified, why haven’t they been widely implemented? “My answer to that is because energy is artificially cheap. And what I mean by that is that there are a lot of subsidies for carbon-based energies,” said Byck. “The other side of that coin—even if you don’t go down that road of adding a price on carbon—it’s a simple lack of knowledge and a situation of complacency.”
A price on carbon—sounds kind of scary, huh? Well, Byck said no. “I think the story needs to be properly told. I think you need to set it up well. Really give people some facts, and then they’ll come up with that idea themselves.”
Carbon Nation is a start, and Byck is convinced he’s already started a revolution. His current mission: To get to as many eyeballs to view the film as possible. With coal, oil and natural gas companies mainly focusing on making money rather than omitting carbon, Byck asked, “If you look at them as energy companies, then isn’t there a way to stay energy companies and make money and do it in a cleaner way?” He continued, “We’re not rabble-rousers or radicals, we just want a good level-headed conversation. What’s the cheapest way to get an electron into someone’s home? So you can talk about nuclear, and you can talk about wind and say okay, what’s the cheapest way to do it? And how do you do it without so many subsidies?”
Carbon Nation is now playing in Los Angeles at Laemmle Sunset 5.
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