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A time for clarity, intent, and hope: an interview with ColorFool Films on 6,000 Miles

Masha Karpoukhina and the crew at ColorFool Films played a pivotal role in bringing our short film 6,000 Miles together. Their dedication to their craft, conservation, creativity, and expertise were instrumental in turning our vision into a reality. Executing a film project of this magnitude and ensuring it leaves a lasting impression is a formidable undertaking, a fact not widely understood or appreciated by those outside the industry. Fortunately, Masha graciously took the time to engage in a candid conversation with us, addressing their important work around the issues of climate change, conservation, and inspiration for moving forward.

A few of your most recent films center around the issues of climate change, conservation, etc., –  What inspired you to take on films of this nature?

The magnitude of loss that we will experience in the next few decades is profound. My 22-year-old son will be living in a world where water & food security will become a luxury. Familiar creatures like wolves, lions, and rhinoceros will survive only in movies and fictional tales and the coastal cities will settle into the deep. Millions of people worldwide will become climate refugees that will reshape nations, international law, and life as we know it. All while capitalism, greed, profiteering, and authoritarian regimes rear their ugly heads and seem stronger than ever.

We are the most ecologically illiterate generation to ever walk upon this Earth. Our mothers knew more about their food and water and the intrinsic interdependence of it all than us. Our grandmothers knew even more still. Yet it will be our generation that will have to decide the direction for our planet. So how do we carry this great responsibility? 

It is clear that we know what is happening, yet we still seem to be willing to gamble the future of our children, even life itself on this planet for deeply misleading and misprioritized nonsense like the GDP, the stock market, or job growth. 
The time for clarity is now. The time for courage, for potency in our intent and actions and messaging is now. The time for real hope in the face of this seemingly crushing reality is also now.

This year you completed three films that represent an inspiring patchwork of some of the most ambitious conservation projects to be undertaken in California in response to the climate crisis – How do you feel these three films work together to get a message across?

Biodiversity hotspots make up about 2.3% of Earth’s land surface, but they hold 44% of the world’s plants and 35% of land vertebrates.
35 such hotspots have been designated by scientists around the world from New Zealand to the Himalayas, from Chile to Somalia. Perhaps unsurprisingly to some, but I was a little shocked to learn that Northern California is one of them. 

As the climate crisis barrels down full speed disrupting not only human life, but all life, all systems under threat of collapse, these hotspots will become crucial strongholds of life and our chance of survival. People, animals and plants will need these places to rest, to regroup, and to adapt.

The 3 films we created for the Bioneers with Peninsula Open Space Trust, Save The Bay and Calwild representing not only some of the most ambitious conservation projects happening right here, in our backyard, but also some of the most consequential. And, although they are not the whole solution, they are a drop in the bucket. We need thousands more projects like these happening in tandem everywhere. These 3 must absolutely succeed if we are to maintain this beautiful place we all love.

6,000 Miles is a film that highlights quite a few different touch points, climate change, river accessibility, dams, a personal connection to the river through pack rafting, etc., – What do you feel was the most compelling part of our story? 

If we just think for a moment about the fact that the Smith River is the only undammed river here in California, it should help us understand the magnitude of the problem. Choking out our rivers leaves our ecosystems vulnerable to collapse as keystone species like the salmon are unable to travel their ancestral routes and provide the nourishment to the rest of the creatures that depend on them, from bears to redwoods, from whales to humans.

So what types of recourse do we have? This is exactly where CalWild comes in with their ambitious, yet absolutely necessary goal of protecting 6,000 miles of rivers using one of the nation’s most effective and arguably underutilized tools – The National Wild & Scenic Rivers Protection Act. 

I think what is most compelling about our story is the incredible characters who show us what it takes to achieve this goal of 6,000 miles. Just seeing how much effort it takes to push through a hundred miles, much less 6,000 is sobering, yet inspiring to me. If we can push through a couple hundred miles, why not a 100,000?    

What do you feel were the most rewarding and most challenging parts of making this film?

The most rewarding part of the filmmaking process for me has always been getting immersed in the stories of our characters. Stories of people like Steve Evans aka “The River Guy” who spent his whole life working quietly behind the scenes, often unnoticed, rarely thanked, yet so incredibly crucial in navigating the heavy wheels of bureaucracy in our favor. A true hero in my eye, wielding laws and regulations effectively like a sword. People like Kayla Lopez, who is so deeply compassionate and connected to everything that she does – that the rivers I think are lucky to have someone like her on their side.

The most challenging part I think was realizing how severely disrupted our day-to-day activities are becoming due to the climate emergency, including that of filmmaking. We were shooting in unprecedented storms, flooding, and constant electricity interruptions – underlining & reinforcing the extreme urgency of it all.

How do you view the role of filmmakers in addressing and spreading awareness about pressing conservation concerns through their work?

I think filmmakers and storytellers in general have a very distinct responsibility in times like these. With so much noise and distractions, with so much deliberate confusion sown by big corporations, we badly need clarity, truth, and nuance in our stories.

It’s our job to translate big scientific concepts that somehow always seem emotionally removed from us like ecosystem collapse, mass extinction, global warming & infuse them with a deeper meaning. Words like ocean acidification or ecosystem collapse should fill us with abject horror, but they don’t do they? Much like the word holocaust didn’t have the same meaning in the 1920s as it did later, by the end of the 1940s. That means we (artists, journalists, scientists) haven’t done a good job of it yet. And even if we did, so did the modern media machine in obscuring, repurposing, and watering down our messages. 

What’s your one word of advice for viewers after watching 6,000 Miles or any of your other films that highlight these important issues?

Kayla Lopez doing art on the Trinity River

Dear viewers, I know we didn’t ask to be the generation that bears the responsibility for the direction of life on this planet, but we are. I hope we take this responsibility to heart. Our children will know that we knew exactly what was happening and they will know if we chose to doom them or to reverse course towards healing and reconnection with life. 

I think one of the most consequential things any one person can know is where their water comes from. With that knowledge, they can plug into larger issues and understand what is needed to make their local ecosystems healthy. Water is one of those magical substances that is a crucial nourishing component to all life on Earth and just like a keystone species, if we can protect the waters, we can protect everything else that depends on them.

What other projects or films do you have coming up? 

There are fires everywhere and it’s hard to focus on one, they all seem so urgent, but we narrowed it down to 2 stories. 

One is connected to reproductive justice & health in the heartland of the US. Specifically Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Iowa where the battle lines are being violently drawn as we speak, on women’s bodies, their health, and sometimes even their lives. Abortion is healthcare, we’d like to leave no doubt with this statement.

The second is connected to returning ancestral winter chinook salmon runs to the rivers of California. It’s been almost a hundred years since McCloud Chinook salmon swam up the Sacramento River. A keystone species, by whose health we measure the health of all others. The Winnemem Wintu – a federally unrecognized tribe is now on the frontlines of a massive effort, both spiritual and physical, to return their salmon back home. The Winnemem Wintu say that if we can save the salmon, we can save ourselves.

If you haven’t done so yet, watch our short documentary 6,000 Miles here and do your part to take action to help us reach our goal.