Interview with Filmmaker Ed Akselrud (KEEP COOL: FORTIFYING BRITISH COLUMBIA)

Directed by Ed Akselrud
In 2017 and 2018 British Columbia experienced devastating wildfires that reshaped the province. From the ashes, a surprisingly complex “war machine” arose to reforest the scarred land. Keep Cool: Fortifying British Columbia explores this machine, the key players involved, and the significance of government-designated Old Grown Management Areas in the province’s north.

Get to know the filmmaker:

1. What motivated you to make this film?
At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was definitely the people we met and interviewed. The project was originally meant to be a 3-5 minute video, but when we arrived we were taken to so many sites and locations and introduced to so many people involved by our partner Zanzibar that I felt that this needed to be a bigger project. There are so many moving parts in forestry and we got to interact with so many (though not all) of them. So the planned runtime expanded from those 5 minutes, to 12-15, then to 20, and finally somehow landed at 30 minutes. Going in, I had no idea how much there was to this story and how many different people and characters were involved in this herculean effort, so I felt compelled to try and illustrate their work at the scale I thought it deserved.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
It was not a linear process. We did our first shoot in the summer of 2021, which was when it was still meant to be a short video. That’s when we conducted almost all the interviews. We ended up with so much story material but not enough footage to cover it all, so we went back for another shoot the following summer in 2022. So there was a year-long gap – we had a lot going on at the organization (One Tree Planted) and I simply couldn’t get around to editing the film, but I already knew we’d need to go back out there. Finally after a hectic couple of months of editing after the second shoot we had our premiere at Climate Week in September 2022, so just about over a year total.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
Urgent action.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Getting enough footage to accompany the entire story and all the interviews we got was a huge challenge. We had a total of 6 days of shooting across the two shoots. I was really unsure until late in the edit whether I would have enough b-roll, especially for some certain sections of the film. The final runtime was largely going to be determined by this. Thankfully I somehow managed to squeeze enough out of what we got to finish the edit at 30 minutes which was a huge accomplishment.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
First it was incredible to see total strangers react to the film. We did have some people at our Climate Week premiere who were not associated with us in any way, but they did not stick around after the screening so this is the first time I’ve heard feedback on the film from people who I don’t know at all. I was really happy to hear people pointing out specific aspects of the film they enjoyed, such as the music, editing and cinematography, and the overall “feel” of it – these were all crafted very deliberately to not only stand out from other similar productions, but to also get the gravity of the situation across while simultaneously inspiring the viewer. It seems this worked and I was really thrilled to hear people felt continuously engaged and excited by it. There was also a general recognition of the film’s message as well as the diversity and complexity of the work and workforce involved. People seemed to genuinely learn something while also being entertained, so that’s a win for me.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
I started editing videos for fun when I was 11, but I didn’t arrive at the “I want to make films” decision until late in my college years. It was a long self-searching process of trying to figure out how I could be most useful to the world, and I landed at this, although I had no idea how I would realize these ideas at the time. My hope was to bring a new spin to environmental documentaries and find a way to make films that feel truly impactful and epic despite the somewhat mundane nature of some of these subjects.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
That’s a tough one, but probably Arrival by Denis Villeneuve, which I consider my favorite film. His work is a huge source of inspiration for me. In Arrival, the main character is an academic (linguist), which is not what you’d expect a hero in an alien “invasion” film to be. In my work, I want to also elevate people and professionals who are often overlooked in popular media.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other
festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Any connections festivals can facilitate to other industry professionals are always appreciated. I would also love to be able to connect with festival juries in some way (after the fact of course) to know more about what they thought and how they arrived at their decision to grant our film an award (or not).

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your
experiences been working on the festival platform site?

It’s amazing. It made searching for and submitting to dozens of festivals so easy – great platform. This whole process would be so much more challenging without it.

10. What is next for you? A new film?
We work with so many partners and projects across the world at One Tree Planted, so there is no shortage of stories to tell. Most likely we will look to create another similar film about a reforestation project in a totally different part of the world once we identify one for this. I’m not sure I’m ready for anything longer than Keep Cool’s 30 minute runtime just yet – but one day I would love to produce a feature, of course.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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