Monumental:

David Brower's Fight for Wild America

 

Screened on Sunday, August 8, as part of the

Wine Country Film Festival

 

Filmmaker Kelly Duane and Brower's son Ken, an activist in his own right, discussed the film and Brower's legacy following the screening. Sebastiani Theater, on the Plaza, Sonoma.

A little update:  the film is doing well. (see some reviews below) The LA Film Festival was great, . . . a host more film festivals this Summer and Fall. Also we will have theatrical release in SF, Seattle, Portland, Santa Fe, Flagstaff, & Reno in September and October.

 

 

 

Full Variety Review

By ROBERT KOEHLER


Monumental - David Brower's Fight for Wild America

A Loteria Films presentation. Produced, directed by Kelly Duane.

With: David Brower, Martin Litton, Stewart Udall, Jerry Mander, Floyd Dominy, Kevin Starr, Rod Nash, Ken Brower, Barbara Brower, John Dyer, Michael McCloskey, Michael Cohen, Roderick Nash, Phillip Berry.

Stylish and substantial enough to prompt even a couch potato to action, Kelly Duane's "Monumental: David Brower's Fight for Wild America" delivers a stirring and visually dense account of the life and times of Brower, the key post-WWII American environmental activist and a driving force behind the Sierra Club. The ample display here of 16mm film shot by the late Brower in the Western wilderness virtually makes him a co-director alongside Duane, whose feeling for her subject will make this an essential festfest entry and an evergreen public TV programmer.

Fabulously styled graphics (care of Los Angeles-based design firm Syrup) provide basic details, including that Brower became the Sierra Club's first execexec director 60 years after John Muir founded the group in 1892, and that his footage used in pic was shot between 1930 and 1970, while his vocal commentary was recorded between 1970 and 1978.

Far from its current position as a leading environmentalist lobbying force, the club began as a loose group of hikers especially attracted to the rock-climbing challenges in Yosemite Valley. A trek up the awesomely craggy Shiprock in New Mexico is recalled by Brower pal John Dyer as one of those things young guys do for a thrill.

On his pleasant hikes, Brower found a fine photographic teacher in Ansel Adams, who encouraged him to fiddle with a small movie camera and record his Sierra idylls. During WWII, Brower's mountaineering skills became useful to the Army in Italy, where he participated in some daring raids. But after the war, the activist in Brower was awakened by a relentless march west by developers and the Army Corps of Engineers, whose government-sponsored projects first made a personal impact on Brower when a road was built through Yosemite's unspoiled eastern side.

"Monumental" is attuned to the details that reveal the man. For example, Brower wasn't opposed to all roads, just paved ones; by entering Yosemite via dirt roads, he thought, you earned your way into paradise.

Busy with a family of four but alarmed by a nation paving itself over, Brower became the Sierra Club's toppertopper in 1952. Shrewdly, he produced informative films and guided river trips to show the beauty of a remote Utah wilderness area threatened by a proposed dam. Today, that area is the Dinosaur National Monument.

The radicalization of Yank ecologists, and certainly Brower, may be traced to the 1956 building of the Glen Canyon Dam along the Colorado River, which the Army Corps determined would serve as a giant water source for growth in the West. Brower's footage of the canyon lensed just months before dam was erected is pic's most haunting section -- a view of natural beauty now totally submerged underneath a man-made lake.

Wilderness footage makes pic richly cinematic, but it's not merely inserted. A crack team of gifted editors (experimental cineaste Nathaniel Dorsky, Anne Flatte and Tony Saxe) and a wondrous soundtrack of various bands playing dreamy rock give Brower's and friend Martin Litton's lensing a blissful lift.

The '60s are shown to have been Brower's crowning time -- he effectively saved much of the Grand Canyon, no less, from dams, and personally steered Lady BirdBird Johnson into a populist brand of environmentalism that made his cause downright patriotic. Pic provides only a short look at Brower's post-Sierra Club years, when he founded the Earth Island Institute and kept to a much tougher line of ecology activism.

While "Monumental" makes an irrefutable case that Brower was one of the '60s giant figures, Duane recognizes that his strong personality rubbed many folks the wrong way, including his closest Sierra Club allies.

In the end, the memories of Litton, former Interior secretary Stewart Udall, children Ken and Barbara and old enemies like Floyd Dominy give this portrait a human dimension.

Camera (Alpha Cine color/B&W, DV), Duane, Martin Litton, David Brower; editors, Nathaniel Dorsky, Anne Flatte, Tony Saxe; music, the Beachwood Sparks, Fruit Bats, the American Analog Set, FCS North, Hayden , Kingsbury Manx, Scientific American, American Music Club; graphic design, Syrup Design. Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Los Angeles, June 3, 2004. (In Los Angeles Film Festival; also in Wine Country Film Festival.) Running time: 77 MIN.

 

More Reviews and quotes:


"No individual contributed more to the effort to protect wilderness in America than David Brower, and no film captures the contours and passion of that transforming effort better than Monumental. Duane's film has a freshness and originality that sets it apart from the historical documentaries that have come to dominate the genre." -- J. Stine, Smithsonian Institution

" Calling David Brower an important environmental activist is like calling Hamlet an important member of the Danish royal court. Brower invented modern American environmental activism. This film tells you how and why."
--John Nielsen, NPR

"In addition to its unique documentary resources, the movie should be an invaluable historical primer for anyone who aspires to influence government policy, not to mention the government officials obliged to evaluate that influence."
-- Gary Arnold, Washington Times

"It's great to see those 16-millimeter views of Sierrans at play among Western wonders and striking to see those sights in a grainy format instead of lurid Imax detail. There's Yosemite, the rugged Marin coast, the Nipomo Dunes. There's the young Brower and friends, basketball shoes on their feet, making the first ascent of New Mexico's Shiprock in 1939. The filmmaker's enthusiasm for that insider footage is understandable --imagine the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s home movies of the civil rights movement. . ."
--Chris Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

If Kelly Duane dabbles in hyperbole for this portrait of the Sierra Club's influential former president, the producer-director also constructs an engrossing study in the power, and the perils, of charismatic single-mindedness. A zealous outdoorsman, David Brower transformed the Sierra Club from a friendly gang of mountaineers into a formidable force for the preservation of America's wild spaces. Duane's research is exhaustive and informative, but the film's real pleasures are Brower's own Sierra Club movies of majestic mountains, canyons and forests. As seen through his lens, these spaces are even more commanding than the activist himself. --LA Weekly

Stylish and substantial enough to prompt even a couch potato to action, Kelly Duane's "Monumental: David Brower's Fight for Wild America" delivers a stirring and visually dense account of the life and times of Brower, the key post-WWII American environmental activist and a driving force behind the Sierra Club. . . . Wilderness footage makes Monumental richly cinematic, but it's not merely inserted. A crack team of gifted editors (experimental cineaste Nathaniel Dorsky, Anne Flatte and Tony Saxe) and a wondrous soundtrack of various bands playing dreamy rock give Brower's and friend Martin Litton's lensing a blissful lift. ­ Robert Koehler, Variety

"Though framed by the incendiary personality of environmental activist Brower, Monumental is as unconventional a portrait film as its subject. Filmmaker Kelly Duane touches on some personal highlights including his brief tenure at the Sierra Club but what resonates most is the footage he shot of America's most spectacular natural wonders. Brower's passion infuses every frame and proves the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words, no matter how fiery." --Movie City News

"This is the definitive film on David Brower."
--Jon Else, Filmmaker, Cadillac Desert

A magnificent achievement, Monumental tells the story of David Brower's charismatic leadership of the Sierra Club. Thirty years of priceless wild lands footage from Brower's home movies make this a "must see" for anyone who cares about the earth and the history of the environmental movement.
--Larry Fahn, President of the Sierra Club

"I got a sneak peak of this documentary and it is incredible. This film combines David Brower's own footage with Brower audio clips and interviews with key players in the environmental movement . . . don't miss it!"
-- Chris McNamara, Writer & Professional Climber

 

THE WILDNESS WITHIN US