The Making of Copenhagen

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March 26, 2010

By Ben Besasie ‘12

From Dream to Distribution

Forget Christian Bale in "Batman," Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman," and Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump." Nevermind the Hollywood glitterati. The film to watch this year features a more understated star known as Mother Earth, and she plays roles ranging from dramatic to mysterious to horrific.  

In the past year, a group of CSB and SJU students decided to turn their concern about the future of the planet into positive action. Steve Dahlke '12, Paul McDivitt '11, Theresa M. Lehn '10, Justin Roth '10 and Xuyang Tang '10 formed the Environmental Responsibility Coalition and took the initiative to film a documentary. Maddie Hansen '13 later joined the group, assisting with planning and editing the film. 

They decided to focus on the people, ideas and solutions at the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark. Advised by Ernie Diedrich, CSB/SJU professor of economics, the students pooled their talents from a variety of academic interests, including environmental studies, art, biology, theater, film, economics, psychology and management. 

"The Making of Copenhagen" follows these students as they move their story from dream to distribution. 

Visioning the Dream

Why do a documentary?

The students wanted to provide an overview of the worldwide impact of Mother Earth's changing climate. They also wanted to focus on solutions. A documentary seemed the best way to capture imagination and motivate change.

During the spring of 2009, SJU graduate John Smith '09 was inspired to promote environmental sustainability after attending the Power Shift '09 climate summit in Washington D.C. He talked with Dahlke about the importance of COP15.

Together they interviewed CSB and SJU students and formed the Environmental Responsibility Coalition (ERC) to film a documentary. "We needed to form a well-rounded group with experience in film, travel and environmental sustainability," Dahlke says.

The ERC began work on the documentary outline after speaking with polar explorer Will Steger and environmental activist Bill Mikibben. Following those conversations, the students saw COP15 as a way to make a difference.

While filming in Copenhagen, they wanted to turn a scientifically acknowledged problem into personal activism. Rather than speaking on the inconvenient truth of climate change, the ERC chose to focus on solutions. "We have decided we don't want to scare people into action, we want to inspire people into action," Dahlke says.

With COP15 as the focal point, the documentary would present ideas from a wide range of people from around the world, providing a global perspective.

"These students know what the stakes are for humanity and want to expand the hope needed to change humanity's course," Diedrich says.

With an outline of the film in hand, the students moved to the next, and stickier question -- financing the trip. They met with college officials to come up with funding totaling over $10,000. The President's Office and Institutional Advancement from each campus as well as the environmental studies department all pitched in funds.

"I was so exited when we found out we got the funding. It was such a big relief to finally know that all the work wasn't going to waste," Dahlke says.

Fulfilling the Dream

After an eight-hour flight, and multiple outline revisions, the students arrived in the midst of world leaders, politicians, activists, youth, scientists, environmentalists, press, filmmakers and just plain everyday people gathered from more than 200 countries to discuss the future course of the planet.

"I think I've met a person or more from at least 30 different countries in a period of just 24 hours," Roth says.

They traveled with two high-definition cameras, lights and boom microphones. The students stayed in hostels and spent the rest of the time in the uproar of global events, but not without a few missteps.

"In the beginning the ERC group started off lost and confused, but I really feel like we have figured out how each person works best," Roth says.

Assignments ranged from interviewing, to filming, to organizing.

"I'm more like the accountant ... I do anything to help with the tasks," Xuyang says.

Within the first few days, the students received accreditation passes to the COP15 conference. With the passes came free transportation and access to activities.

First, the students attended the International Conference of Youth, where youth delegations from all over the world convened to coordinate and unite the youth voice. They also filmed footage from Klimaforum09, an event where non-governmental advocates discussed solutions to climate change for a green future.

"I am continually being humbled by all of the amazing stories and people I learned about every day," Lehn says.

Press tours to Middelgrunden Offshore Wind Farm and Lolland, a sustainable community with new renewable energy technologies, added variety to their documentary.

The students traveled to the Island of Samso, where its 4,000 residents have used wind power to completely eradicate its carbon footprint. The students captured this style of living to illustrate what individuals can do to pursue the green dream.

They combined numerous interviews with a variety of visuals -- scenery, rallies, unconventional shots of city life and innovative technologies -- to capture the atmosphere of Copenhagen.

"Mainly, we want the viewer to feel like there is hope for the future," Roth says.

After their brief 14-day experience in the epicenter of environmental sustainability, they tracked back to campus to put their footage into action.

Sharing the Dream

They found the story, scraped together the funding and filmed the footage.

Now the documentary has come to life.

"They have shown a great entrepreneurial spirit in putting together this awareness-increasing venture," Diedrich says.

After capturing 25 hours of raw footage, they spent countless more hours meeting three times a week to condense their video into a 45-minute documentary.

After producing the final cuts of the film, the students took part in an Independent Learning Project, resulting in presentations of their film on campus and venues across the region including the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

"I feel more comfortable knowing my role in this wider planet, and how I can fit in to the confusing and complicated concept that we call existence," Dahlke said. "If anything, the climate change issue has brought the world closer."