Activist Film

The Cascadia Bioregion, according to Bend-based independent filmmakers Mel Sweet and Devin Hess, “is defined by geomorphology, including all watersheds that flow west from the continental divide through the rainforests of the West Coast.” It extends from the southeast Alaska Panhandle south into northern California and as far east as Missoula, Mont. Occupied Cascadia, they say, is “the first feature-length film to explore the Cascadian bioregional autonomist movement.” If you are not familiar with that movement, or always wanted to know what that blue and green flag with the Doug fir on it was about, then pick up a copy of the 1975 utopian novel Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach, and you’ll start to get an idea. 

The documentary, filmed over the course of a year, has scenes from Occupations in the Northwest, gorgeous shots of mountains and rivers, and still more, sometimes disturbingly lovely, images of crowded cities and of environmental destruction. The scenes are interspersed with narrators from author and enviro-activist Derrick Jensen to Native American Chad Eneas, who move the film from storytelling to patriarchy to greenwashing and more. It’s all set to a haunting background score by Zoë Keating and Hassan Estakhrian. 

Despite a clear effort to include women and First Nations people, the film does feel dominated by the voices of white men. Though those white men, like Jensen, Charles Eisenstein and Steven Hawley, say a lot of things that need to be said about the state of the Earth and the environment, I would like to see a film that calls to “re-contextualize popular revolt within our life-world as a movement to decolonize, un-occupy and re-inhabit the living Earth through deep understanding and identification with our specific bioregions” start with a lengthy voiceover by a person of color, or a female-identified narrator rather than a white guy.  

Don’t go watch Occupied Cascadia looking for action; watch it for its meditations on changing the world and personal action, starting perhaps with the Northwest. Think My Dinner with Andre with one-at-a-time narrators rather than dialogue. Watch it to learn more about the concept of deep green resistance and the criticisms environmental activists have not only for corporations and politicians, but also for one another. Remarks such as those by Eneas, a traditional knowledge keeper for the Okanagan Nation, who tells the viewer “I could tell you guys lots of stories about water because it’s that sacred and that powerful,” paired with images of salmon and dams, remind us that many disasters are manmade. The film’s discussion of man’s influence on disasters is particularly telling in the wake of Hurricane Sandy (aka the Frankenstorm) in this era of climate change.

Occupied Cascadia will be screening 8 pm Thursday, Nov. 8, at the University of Oregon, Lawrence 11. The filmmakers will be present for a Q&A following the film. For more info go to

Occupied Cascadia: Producers/editors, Mel Sweet and Devin Hess. Executive director, Casey Bryan Corcoran. Score: Zoë Keating and Hassan Estakhrian. Featuring, Charles Eisenstein, Derrick Jensen, Steven Hawley, Lierre Keith, Alexander Baretich, Max Wilbert, Claire Campbell-Williams, Chad Eneas and more. R. 125 minutes. 2012. Three and a half stars.

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