Interview with “Our Canyon Lands” Filmmaker, Justin Clifton

 K44A7010

The Our Canyon Lands trail­er — cre­at­ed by film­mak­er Justin Clifton, for­mer Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the 5Point Film Fes­ti­val and Direc­tor of Moun­tain­Film On Tour — speaks for itself. It’s a visu­al­ly stun­ning ode to the desert, a com­pelling advo­ca­cy piece for a trea­sured nation­al land­scape, and a com­men­tary on the state of human­i­ty. This soon-to-be-released doc­u­men­tary tells of the cur­rent threats fac­ing South­east­ern Utah: oil, gas, potash, ura­ni­um, and tar sands min­ing on land just out­side of the pro­tect­ed area of Canyon­lands Nation­al Park. It aims to raise aware­ness of the prob­lems the coun­try could face on a nation­al lev­el if we don’t choose to pro­tect this area, which Clifton spoke to us about. 

The trail­er is avail­able to view now, which you should do by click­ing the video below. The film itself will be released on Sep­tem­ber 12th in Moab, Utah

THE CLYMB: What com­pelled you — per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly — to tack­le a project like this one?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: It was a con­scious shift from the path that I was on to evolve and use my skills to help advo­ca­cy groups tell their sto­ries. A lit­tle over a year ago, I made a con­scious shift to cre­ate media for change.

I earned my degree in jour­nal­ism and worked in tele­vi­sion news for a while, but the major­i­ty of my back­ground comes from spend­ing a decade curat­ing film for fes­ti­vals (pri­mar­i­ly advo­ca­cy film). See­ing the pow­er of film for change made me real­ly want to go out and help peo­ple tell more of the sto­ries that weren’t being told. In many ways, it’s the evo­lu­tion of jour­nal­ism in America.On the per­son­al side, this land­scape is in my soul; I’m not just tack­ling this from a pro­fes­sion­al stand­point. This is one of the few places where I feel tru­ly at home. The region at risk is in the Col­orado Plateau, which is my back­yard, and I care deeply about it. 

THE CLYMB: What is the sto­ry of Our Canyon Lands real­ly about?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: It’s about our col­lec­tive equi­ty in these pub­lic lands. We’re talk­ing about land­scapes that all Amer­i­cans own equal­ly, and it real­ly becomes a ques­tion of what our pri­or­i­ties are as a nation. Do we want to indus­tri­al­ize the best of our land­scapes for 17 days of oil — which is about how long the resource in the Greater Canyon­lands Region will last at today’s con­sump­tion rates — or do we want to pro­tect these land­scapes for future gen­er­a­tions, to main­tain the integri­ty of wild spaces for our own human imagination?

THE CLYMB: How did you first learn of the threats fac­ing the Greater Canyon­lands Region?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: My first intro­duc­tion was when Tim DeChristo­pher stood for the lands and ulti­mate­ly went to prison. Like a lot of peo­ple, I thought what he did changed what was hap­pen­ing through­out the region. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the pres­sures inten­si­fied and our pub­lic lands through­out the region are still being auc­tioned off to indus­tri­al­ize this unbe­liev­ably wild land­scape. It was through the Grand Canyon Trust that I learned more about what was hap­pen­ing. The work they are doing with oth­ers like the South­ern Utah Wilder­ness Alliance and the Sier­ra Club to save this land­scape is unpar­al­leled, but they need the help and sup­port of informed cit­i­zens to get this land protected.

THE CLYMB: What is one rea­son that some­one who has nev­er set foot in this area should care about it? 
JUSTIN CLIFTON: There are so many rea­sons: envi­ron­ment, cli­mate, soli­tude, adven­ture, escape. But, if I have to say one, I’d say water. This land­scape is vital­ly impor­tant to the Col­orado riv­er water­shed, which sus­tains more than 40 mil­lion peo­ple. Beyond that, it pro­vides 15 per­cent of the food we con­sume in the U.S., so with­out a healthy Col­orado riv­er, our coun­try will suf­fer tremen­dous­ly. Once it’s gone we can nev­er get it back. This is tru­ly wild land that we should leave as a lega­cy  — a gift — to all future gen­er­a­tions (to quote the late Randy Udall).

THE CLYMB: What’s some­thing you’ve learned from tak­ing this project on that you did­n’t expect to?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: That noth­ing fits into a pret­ty lit­tle box. This is a com­plex sto­ry about eco­nom­ics, com­mu­ni­ty, indus­try, cli­mate, envi­ron­ment, water — the list goes on. It would be so nice if you just had a vil­lain to ral­ly against, but this is much more nuanced than that. This isn’t a good vs. evil sto­ry; this is a sto­ry about what’s impor­tant to us as Amer­i­cans, as human beings liv­ing on this plan­et, about what we want our lega­cy to be. Are we bold enough to stand up and pro­tect more of our trea­sured landscapes?

THE CLYMB: What was the biggest chal­lenge you faced in set­ting out on the project?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: Know­ing how the film would ulti­mate­ly come togeth­er. I went in with a rough idea of a script that I felt would work and, with­in 30 min­utes of our first shoot, real­ized that the script was com­plete­ly out the win­dow. Luck­i­ly, real­i­ty was much more inter­est­ing than what I orig­i­nal­ly thought the sto­ry would be.