For filmmaker Robert Lundahl, the idea of the west and the desert inspired him from an early age. The vastness of the land and the symbol of having the open wilderness ahead of you was an image that has stuck with Lundhal throughout his life.
Now, he’s hoping to preserve that feeling with his latest documentary “Who Are My People,” which examines at U.S. energy policy and its effects on desert ecosystems, Native American tribes and the communities of the west.
“The story starts with my memories of going to the desert as a child,” Lundahl aid. “I grew up in Los Angeles post war, before they put catalytic converters on cars. The air pollution was extreme. The desert, the west, represented relief from the ills and pollution of society and the cities.”
Growing up, filmmaking was always Lundahl’s dream and he attended the University of Southern California film school. It was during his introduction into the world of film that he changed his career trajectory.
“I remember being appalled at the time that the budget of an average feature film would buy something like 3,800 tractors,” Lunhdal said. “And I thought turning the camera on the real world was more interesting.”
As Lundahl grew older, he began making films. It was during a period of time when he made two films about the Native American culture and stories in the state of Washington that he began to show an interest in his current film.
“A colleague suggested I visit the Blythe Intaglios, large earth drawings visible from space. Other geoglyphs related to them were endangered due to renewable energy development by the Obama Administration, solar and wind, on public lands, now planned across the West. I began to research the topic. In September 2012 I filmed at a BLM scoping meeting for a $2 billion project called Rio Mesa, by Brightsource Energy. The BLM flubbed questions related to which tribes they had consulted with as required by Section 106 of the National Historic Places Act of 1966. That was the ‘Smoking Gun.’ I knew I had the film at that point.”
Lundahl said he reached out to the BLM for interviews, but was declined on multiple occasions.
With a nationwide push toward renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, Lundahl is aiming to start a conversation about how this push could lead to negative effects for everyone in the long term.
“Solar belongs on rooftops, brownfields, and already distressed lands, not on pristine desert or Native American sacred sites,” Lundahl said. “In a few years, we’ll have solar-collecting window panes, at that time we don’t want the West full of junk that it will cost 100’s of millions if not billions to remove, and depleted ecosystems from massive industrialization across six western states including Nevada. This film is a wake up call for people who value western lands and the character and history of the west.”
The film is set to premiere in Las Vegas later this month. Lundahl’s goal is to get the documentary broadcast nationwide on television, but also said showings in smaller communities are a possibility.
Lundahl invited several BLM representatives as well as Sen. Harry Reid and more to the showing in Las Vegas. How much of an impact “Who Are My People” has on the national debate remains to be seen. But Lundahl is willing to try and start the conversation.
“I don’t like injustice, particularly when it happens to my friends. I’ve lived in Nevada and traveled all over the state. I lived in rural Washington, and in the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley,” Lundahl said. “I know the different sides of the energy issue and have seen it from different perspectives. I saw how computers started out in the hands of the few, and then wound up in the homes of the many through technological decentralization. It’s inevitable with energy, but the electric utilities are in the way, protecting their monopoly status. And the people pay, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, native, nonnative. And all across the West, we’re going to keep paying for generations to come if we don’t collectively get a handle on this issue and demand another solution.”