(All photos by Laura Kleinhenz. See more at Docuvitae)
Last night, James Cameron took a break from the awards circuit to talk about the praise and criticism from the environmental community about Avatar to benefit the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The event, organized in less than a week, was spawned by Cameron's wife, Suzy, who is a member of the NRDC Leadership Council. KCRW quickly jumped aboard, with Elvis Mitchell, the host of KCRW's program, "The Treatment," signing on to moderate the discussion with Cameron at the Zanuck Theater at the Fox Studio Lot, after a 45-minute, 3-D screening of clips from the blockbuster film. (Tickets were $125 for just the conversation and $250 for the conversation plus a reception).
Cameron addressed how he designed his film to reach a global audience by appealing to their emotional reaction to events in the film--like when the Na'vis' tree was torched by the evil corporate entity and fell on them as they fled for their lives. Previously he had used his relatively small budget documentaries to address environmental themes by presenting facts and figures to a self-selecting audience.
The theme of the moving starting and ending with Jake Sully's avatar opening his eyes is symbolic. "The whole movie is about changing perceptions," said Cameron, who added that we all suffer from nature deficit disorder. "Avatar asked us all to be avatars for the earth," said Cameron, who described himself as a "nature geek," with a lifelong interest in creatures, flora and fauna--particularly underwater.
"We live in denial," said Cameron. "All the negative curves are happening, temperature is rising, the ocean is acidifying. We have an arrogance and sense of impotence. We don't believe we can make change and affect something as vast as atmosphere and oceans."
With Avatar, he wanted to portray that feeling for the planet's challenges is a step in the right direction. "Hope is fertile emotional soil to create action and heightened political awareness," said Cameron. "I wanted to create characters and have the audience walk in their shoes."
Although he had top technology and the best artists working on his film, he kept realizing that nature offered up the best ideas. "Every time we came up with a great idea, nature had beat us," said Cameron. "Nature is better than the best visual artist on the planet."
Cameron mentioned a screening of Avatar in Ecuador for the country's indigenous people, the Shuar of the Amazon, whose life is endangered by the government's oil drilling--a plight akin to the Na'vi's struggle. The tribal elders who saw the movie said that while they identified with the Na'vi, the Shuar don't believe in violence and have never fought to keep their land. "I've been schooled," said Cameron, earnestly. He also commended New Zealand for finding a way to incorporate their native Maori into the country's culture.
Noting the irony of having the event on the Fox lot because of the company's right wing leanings, Cameron said the people who run corporations are not his targets. He has a bigger problem with the corporate lobbying in the government. As for his own corporate parent, he said Fox was far more interested in profit than ideology. "I never had any pressure re ideology," said Cameron, though he was told to tone down some of his environmental message, but he didn't cave.
Cameron believes the future of the environment depends on a technological answer and a social rearrangement. "We need smart energy," he said, to a round of applause.
The green Hollywood event ended with a standing ovation for Cameron and a video starring Leonardo DiCaprio and his celeb pals urging people to email their senators to pass the clean energy bill.