Untitled Stewart Brand Documentary

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: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Completed


Distraught by the ecological ruin, Stewart Brand is on a mission to reengineer humanity’s relationship to time and nature.


Distraught by the ecological ruin, Stewart Brand is on a mission to reengineer humanity’s relationship to time and nature. Accused by his former allies in the environmental movement of being vain and misguided, Stewart Brand is nonetheless determined to build a more sustainable future.


Though we will explore Stewart’s past, this film is primarily a contemporary story, weaving together Stewart’s dual projects of DeExtinction and the Clock of the Long Now. We will follow Stewart through the process of fabricating the huge, fragile mechanism for the clock; designing the chimes with musician Brian Eno; and working with a construction crew this Summer to haul the massive parts up a mountain and install the clock in West Texas. Stewart is also embarking on a scientific expedition across several continents to test his hypothesis that DeExtinction can revive not just species but the larger ecosystems that depend on them. The expedition begins in upstate New York, where scientists are introducing into the wild the first species brought back from extinction: the American Chestnut Tree. Once ubiquitous, this tree was destroyed by blight. Now, with the help of a resistant gene from the wheat plant, Stewart and his scientific colleagues hope the new version of the tree will return a lost pillar of the forest ecosystem. Stewart’s travels will continue along the Atlantic coast, where his wife and collaborator Ryan Phelan has found a biotech solution save the horseshoe crab from overfishing. A peptide found in the blood of the horseshoe crab has been used for decades to test vaccines. Now, biotechnology has produced a synthetic alternative to crab blood, and Stewart and Ryan are announcing commitments from all the major drug companies to use it in vaccine testing, allowing the crab populations--and other species that depend on them--to rebuild. Stewart’s journey will end in Siberia, where two scientists, Sergey and Nikita Zimov, are trying to recreate a lost ecosystem they call “Pleistocene Park.” They are flying in animals like Musk Oxen and Yakutian horses, and using an old Soviet tank to clear land for them to graze. The finishing touch would be returning the woolly mammoths that one roamed here. This entire effort sounds unlikely and full of hubris. But according to Sergey and Nikita, it is also the best way to prevent the thawing of the Siberian permafrost, which contains massive deposits of carbon that, if released, could induce catastrophic climate change. Their audacious effort in the face of disaster speaks to one Stewart’s core philosophies. “We are as gods and we might as well good get at it,” Stewart wrote fifty years ago, as an epigram to the Whole Earth Catalog. This motto could not be more fitting, or more controversial, today. To confront problems like mass extinction and catastrophic climate change, Stewart believes in all manner of human intervention. Our film will explore the promise and the pitfalls of this idea. Stylistically, the film will share a similar aesthetic to our other two feature documentaries The Immortalists and Bill Nye: Science Guy. The perspective will inhabit Stewart’s point-of-view, but we will also include the voices of Stewart’s most ardent critics, allowing the audience to decide for themselves how they feel his ideas. Lyrically shot in 4k, with Stewart directly addressing the camera as he muses about his ideas, the film will have a playful, philosophical tone. Stewart is a prolific diarist, with 60 years of schematics, illustrations and jottings. We are working with animators to develop graphics bringing his ideas to life. Examples of similar animation can be found in The Immortalists.


Jason Sussberg - Director, Sound
ason Sussberg— Director & Sound: Jason is a San Francisco-based filmmaker focusing on the art and humanity in the sciences. He started his career working in sports television as a producer/editor for the San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors (unfortunately, years before they were World Champions). After receiving his M.F.A. at Stanford University, he and filmmaking partner David Alvarado founded Structure Films, a science storytelling production company. They directed and produced The Immortalists (2014), a film about two scientists trying to find the cure for aging; and Bill Nye: Science Guy (2017), a film about a science educator and his quest to change the world with science; as well as a slew of short documentaries that have broadcast on PBS, TED, BBC, Facebook Watch, and screened at prestigious international film festivals. He is a 2018 SF FilmHouse Resident with this production.


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