February 16, 2009

"FUEL" - an interview with Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell

In January 2008, Josh Tickell screened his new documentary “Fields of Fuel” at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews (see trailer here). It won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. After a full year of more development, it has recently been released to a few theaters in the L.A.

I was invited to attend a pre-premiere green carpet party at one of only two gas stations in Los Angeles that sell both E85 and biodiesel fuels. It was cold (for L.A. in the high 40’s) and threatened rain but it still drew a number of celebrities – Peter Fonda, James Cromwell, Mariel Hemmingway, Stephen Collins, and others – who wanted to support the movie’s successful release.

I caught up with Josh and his fiancée, Rebecca Harrell, on the green carpet and conducted this interview.

Scott: I know that leading up to this, you have had trailers at various conferences. Two years ago I saw it at a Farm to Fuels conference in St. Petersburg Florida. What’s happened since?

Josh: It was quite a journey from Sundance a year ago to here. We cut the movie and added a whole new section about sustainability and the solutions that people were asking for. So the movie grew up a little bit in the year – and we got it ready to come out to the movie theaters as well.
Hello Rebecca, what is your role?

Rebecca: I am Rebecca Harrell and I am a producer of the film as well as Josh’s fiancée… and the Marketing Director during this evolving process for this “labor of love.” We have had to address all the controversy that has been erupting around biofuels. So we couldn’t release the movie without proving that. I think watching the movie will spark your interest and make you more aware of how you can help move biofuels forward.
Why did you make the film?

Josh: We started shooting the film in 1997 when I started driving the “Veggie Van” around the country. We didn’t originally go out with the objective of making a movie so much as the objective to see if these solutions are viable. For two years we just drove it around, making my own fuel, looking for solutions.

What started out as a two month journey turned into an eleven year journey to not just find solutions but to bring them to the public in a way that is accessible so people can understand. What better way than in the form of a movie!
Can you give us some highlights of the film?

Josh: One of the best parts of the film is what we call “the sustainable barrel.” It’s an animated barrel of solutions that replace an oil barrel. People love that part and all the things that people can do themselves that are shown in the movie. It is not often that you can see a movie and then you can do the things in the movie as soon as you’re done.

Rebecca: It is certainly an environmental documentary but it doesn’t make you want to jump off a bridge at the end. It leaves you inspired and uplifted and full of things you can do right now and that’s not usually the way green activists look at this.

Josh: This isn’t a movie that your vegetarian girlfriend is going to drag you to and you end up feeling depressed. She might drag you to it but it’s actually fun.
I think you’d agree that stakeholder engagement is going to be key to the environmental community to accept the deployment of any new technologies. Sustainability being a huge issue, are you prepared to go and help educate America that there can be alternatives?

Josh: Absolutely, the film is about outreach, it is about communities, its about individuals banding together to understand the solutions and act on them. We’ve got a “Big Green Energy Bus”, we’ve got this big inflatable screen – this is really about a community coming together and getting out on the road and activating America. Not around problems but around solutions, especially those that can help us get out of this economic crisis. That’s what green energy and green collar jobs really is.
Do you see an advantage to decentralization of our energy paradigm that seems locked into going further and further to tap fewer and more remote reserves that are dirtier and dirtier to distill?

Josh: Yes, I think the core message of the sustainability movement is that it has got to be local, it’s got to be recyclable. The core of sustainability is non-centralized energy sources – energy you and I can help make – whether it is in my apartment, my house, or my ranch.

Rebecca: It’s also about using our waste streams as fuels.
You are to be congratulated on the work you have done so far. It will be interesting to see where you take it after the flurry of interest in the film itself.

Rebecca: It isn’t just a movie. We are going to take the educational portion of the film and turn it into a 45 minute entertaining, rock and roll, educational film that we distribute for free to every school in America. We will go along with our Big Green Energy Bus and educate people how to be green and sustainable.
You have a wonderful website at ( www.thefuelfilm.com > that’s beautiful, number one, but also very functional.

Josh: Yeah, that’s Rebecca’s creation.
Is that going to be a keystone as part of this movement?

Rebecca: What you see there is just the tip of the iceberg for our website. We are going to use it as a way for people to broadcast their own green message. We developed it so that people will be the eventual owners of that site and we will be facilitating it.

Josh: Everything – the movie, the bus, the website – is for the people and generated by the people as well. Every ticket that is sold for this movie is a vote for green energy, it’s a vote for change. People around the world see those ticket numbers. People ask, “What can we do?” – well right away people can get to the theater and get others to the theater. We will be building a whole network for people to act on as the movie rolls out across the country.
Well we vote with our dollars in this country. And the problem is that, at our gas stations, you can get whatever fuel you want - as long as its petroleum based. We are desperate for fuel alternatives. This fuel station, called Conserv Fuel, is one of the only one’s selling alternatives in all of Los Angeles.

Rebecca: You’re right and they almost stopped selling biodiesel a few weeks ago. When we got that email we were pretty shocked and depressed and then we realized it doesn’t have to be this way. So we started writing and we got others to write also. Within literally five days we got a notice from the gas station that they changed their minds and were going to sell biodiesel. We wanted to celebrate with them and that’s one of the reasons we are here today – I don’t think anyone has ever had a film opening at a gas station before.
Well I hope you can roll this out to other bloggers and the bioenergy conferences that are going on around the country on this very subject. There is a Waste to Fuels conference in San Diego in mid-May – maybe we can show your movie there as well, with your blessing.

Rebecca: Great! We’ll definitely be in contact to set that up.

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BeyondGreen said...

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources. Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. After a brief reprieve gas is inching back up. OPEC will continue to cut production until they achieve their desired 80-100. per barrel. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trains, the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota. There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now. http://www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com

Anonymous said...


The 7 PM screenings of FUEL at the AMC Lowes Broadway in Santa Monica will be hosted by celebrities on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, February 27 - March 1. Scheduled celebrities include Steven Collins and Peter Fonda among others.

SELL-OUT crowds are expected so buy your tickets NOW online (www.thefuelfilm.com) to make sure you don't miss this very rare opportunity. Screenings will include a Q&A session with celebrity host and the filmmakers following the movie.


Anonymous said...

Go see Fuel in the theater now - don't wait. I saw Fuel in Santa Monica and the entire audience was exploding with positive energy afterward. What an uplifting experience!