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BOOKS & THE CULTURE I JOSH ROSENBLATT Green Screen Austin is known for its movie culture and progressive politics. The former is epitomized by Richard Linklater and the Austin Film Society; the latter is exemplified by the fight over Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer, a battle that’s been raging for a generation now, with the environmentalist Save Our Springs Alliance arrayed on one side and the forces of development on the other. Until recently, environmentalists seemed to have the upper hand, thanks to resolutions and ordinances passed in the early ’90s, but the tides are shifting. Relying on “grandfathered” claims, Advanced Micro Devices, a company that specializes in the production of computer and communications microprocessors, is building an enormous office complex in the Barton Creek Watershed area. This spring, environmentalists and developers went another 12 rounds over the controversial and ultimately unsuccessful Proposition 2the so-called “Clean Water Amendment.” The SOS-sponsored charter amendment would have severely limited the City of Austin’s ability to allow development in or near the watershed area. On May 13, Proposition 2 was defeated in a popular vote. Two filmmakers active in the fight for Barton Springs, Dawn Cooper and Susanne Mason, are the curators of the Green Screen film series, an environmental-film showcase taking place this summer at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown. Mason is a freelance documentarian who does production and communication work for SOS; Cooper works as a producer and director for Downtown, a local public television program. The Green Screen series features films about the natural world and people who work in defense of the environment. The films they’ve selected represent both local and national concernsfrom Barton Springs to the San Marcos River, from the Grand Canyon to Mississippi River. The Texas Observer recently sat down with Cooper and Mason to discuss the Green Screen series, the relationship between art and activism, and the ongoing fight for the future of Barton Springs, the local swimming hole many see as the soul of Austin. Texas Observer: How do you know each other, and how did you come up with the idea for the Green Screen series? Dawn Cooper: We’ve known each other for years through the film community. I work at a design production company image work, so I wanted Susanne to talk to my boss and see if he had any suggestions about how they could get the word out about Save Our Springs. Susanne Mason: A lot of my work is contracting with local filmmakers for production-support work, and recently I’ve been contracting with Save Our Springs, helping with communications and short documentaries. DC: The environment is very important to me, and something I can do something I know how to dois put on screenings and film series. You can get people to come out to a movie, and it’s fun and it’s free, and then you can get people engaged in the debate. We sat down and were like, “Okay what’s our fantasy, dream film series? We have to make sure that that stuff exists before we do it.” We wanted the films to be really artful, well-done, engaging documentaries about environmental victories that were inspirational. SM: [laughing] That’s a tall order. When we first started talking about what we could do, we asked, “Why aren’t there more environmental films out there?” We’ve been trying to curate just six screenings, and it’s very difficult to find high-quality films about environmental battles, which shocks me. DC: We had Roy Bedichek’s Vanishing Frontier, which was a no-brainer because it was about Barton Springs, and the next one, Monumental, about David Brower and the fight for the Grand Canyon, is the perfect example of what we wanted. It’s beautiful and inspiring and emotional. We didn’t want to bum people out. Documentaries are usually about what’s wrong with the world, and they’re not usually very inspirational they’re depressing. It seems like the climate out there is that people don’t want to be bummed out anymore. If you have a negative message, people will think you’re a radical, left-wing, extremist, militant environmentalist. And environmentalists, unfortunately, don’t make good filmmakers. SM: It’s not because they’re bad filmmakers, I don’t think. It’s because they’re activists, so half of the time they’re worried about whatever struggle they’re in. And the energy isn’t there to sit around raising money … TO: The ideology gets in the way of the aesthetics? DC: It really takes a lot to make a good documentary. You have to have studied it and practiced it and to have evolved as a filmmaker. And environmentalists just don’t spend their time doing that. They spend their time phone-banking or walking around talking to people or protesting. SM: I consider myself an environmentalist and a documentary filmmaker, but in terms of being a real environmentalist, what I think might be a full-time, diehard environmentalist, I wish I could say I am, but I can’t. I’m very passionate about it, but I don’t study; I can’t identify plants and trees and flowers. I’m not a naturalist. DC: But you don’t have to be a botanist and know all these different plants to know it’s important to save them. For 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 2, 2006