Tell us about your research for the film—did you have any trouble getting people to comment during interviews?
Josh Tickell: The filmmaking process, which was concurrent with the research, actually took 11 years. It’s been an ongoing challenge for us to really get everything necessary to convey the message. People want an emotional message, but they also want the information, so how do you do both? You have to be really dedicated to being as impartial as possible while making it interesting. That’s been the struggle for so long. There are a lot of people who were extremely willing to talk [to us], but obviously the petroleum industry, especially at the beginning, felt very attacked by the movie, so they were very reticent to comment. But after a while, things lightened up as the movie got going, and more and more people were open to talking, and more celebrities came in, and it just became more and more popular.
What can audiences do in response to this film? Where would a good place be to start?
Tickell: The first thing people could do is watch the movie—people think they’ve seen this on Nova, or the Science Channel, or they’ve read it in Scientific American. The information in the FUEL film is unique and new—the reason that you haven’t seen it is because it’s not popular by a lot of corporate and traditional environmental standards. It gives a different perspective—a nontraditional environmental perspective, and a nontraditional perspective on government and corporate America. Sometimes when you’re writing a hard line of truth, it’s not the most popular thing to say. So the first thing is, don’t sell yourself short, see the movie—you haven’t seen what’s in there. The second thing is, once you’ve seen the movie, [understand] that this is really about each of us making a difference—every single one of us. One person at a time doing the things we show in the movie can have a tremendous impact in your community and eventually in your government. We’ve seen whole communities shift their fuel laws, their energy laws. We’ve seen whole communities shift how they do their school buses, how they deal with recycling, and how they deal with the buying and selling of green energy, just from watching the movie. And it usually doesn’t take many people—it’s usually one or two heroes in each community.
Rebecca Harrell: And I think the big difference between FUEL and a lot of other documentaries about the environment or a lot of other environmental outreach groups is that there’s a lot of complaining going on about the problem. And we do a little of that in the movie, but it’s easy to get hung up on the complaining and the problem and not move beyond that to come up with solutions. One of the biggest downfalls in the environmental movement is that we can’t seem to align our thinking. As a result of that, we can’t take any steps forward because we’re just hung up examining the problem. I think the movie takes a really authentic look at our history of oil, and how that links the government and the auto industries and the oil companies, and then it looks to the future. It follows Josh’s journey, but it really looks to the future and it points all of these solutions that people can do right now, and the solutions that are coming tomorrow, like algae for instance. I mean we’re sitting in our algae car right now—
you’re not going to be able to go out and drive your car on algae yet, but by 2011, you will.
When do you think technology like this is going to become more prevalent? Will this film play a part in that?
Harrell: Absolutely. I mean one of the issues in terms of algae is getting the funding to move the whole thing forward. For R&D to take algae out of the conceptual phase into an actual consumer phase is going to require more money than has ever been invested. I mean it’s great that ExxonMobil did what they did, but that’s still not enough. So the only way that that kind of money is going to be invested is when the public demands it. When the public demands it enough, people are saying and chanting, “Algae, algae, algae,” and the awareness of it is spread far enough, and the government entities start embracing it because they don’t have to go to the Middle East anymore to get oil because we can grow it here, then it will very quickly become something that’s mainstream.
It was mentioned in the film that Sweden plans to be fossil fuel-free by 2020, and this is largely a result of people demanding that change. How likely do you think that is to happen elsewhere, especially in the U.S. where the population is more than 30 times larger than that of Sweden?
Tickell: I think the U.S. actually has the ability to move faster in many ways. Sweden doesn’t have the industrial base that we have; Sweden doesn’t have the experience that we, as a country, have for putting forth major technological breakthroughs in extremely short periods of time. I mean when you look at the development of the microprocessor, we had transistors and within months we had a microprocessor and integrated circuit. That was such a monumental leap that allowed us to have computers and the Internet, and no one could perceive how fast that would happen. But the U.S. had the technological ability to go from nothing all the way to that in no time flat. And that’s what we can do as a country. And we also propagate technology very fast—the cool thing about algae technology is that it’s “plug and play”—it goes into the current system. There’s no new infrastructure needed. So that’s the kind of solution that we’re showing in the movie. And that’s why it’s important.
I realize that driving the Veggie Van and putting out the FUEL documentary is more than enough, but what do you do in your home lives to be green?
Harrell: We have the Veggie Van parked in our backyard, we have all the equipment to make our own fuel, so we don’t go and fill up like regular people do—that’s one thing for sure. We recycle like most people in our neighborhood; we make an effort to drink out of big bottles, or reusable bottles, instead of plastic bottles to try to reduce our plastic consumption. We bring bags when we go to the store instead of using plastic bags. A lot of our lives revolve around cutting out a lot of the extraneous plastic we use on a day-to-day basis, and when we do use it, we make sure it goes into the recycling bin.
Check out our green advocate Paul McGinniss' Blog The New York Green Advocate, where he reports on the high tech green vehicle caravan headed to Times Square in NYC
as part of the launch for the FUEL premier!