Interview with Leila Conners Petersen: co-director of The 11th Hour


I had the chance to meet Leila Conners Petersen, the co-founder and president of Tree Media Group. Leila, along with Nadia Conners, co-directed the soon-to-be-released documentary The 11th Hour which is narrated Leonardo DiCaprio. The 11th Hour examines the human relationship with earth from its earliest glimmers of innovation, to the challenges humanity faces in the present, to the possibilities of the future.

The makers of the film spoke with over 70 scientists, designers, historians and thinkers to examine the state of the oceans, land and air, social, design and political challenges for change.

I had a chance to pick Leila's brain about Tree Media Group, the new movie and what she is planning for the future. The 11th Hour is in theaters August 17, 2007.For over a year, I've heard that Los Angeles is turning green. LA is known for fashion , smog , traffic, celebrities and of course Hollywood …but being green? LA is the quintessential sprawling-car-culture of America, yet the buzz is that Tinsel Town is going eco. I decided to take a trip out to the City of Angels to get a firsthand look and talk to the people that are making the Southern California a green-dream-come-true.

TH: "I really think your vision statement for Tree Media Group is powerful…'to use media to support and sustain civil society'...would you elaborate on that for our readers?"

Leila: "When we founded Tree Media Group over 10 years ago, we felt that the stories that we wanted, and needed to hear, were not being told in the mediasphere at large: not on the web, not on television, not in film. So we created a company that would tell stories about the pressing issues of our time. As events unfolded over the years, Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, our mission has more traction than ever. We have a slate of projects that address a range of issues and we look forward to getting them out into the world. The ecology of the mind is very important, and it is critical to seed the mind with hope and positive intentions for an incredible world. Media can help inspire, can help people take the next step toward creating a world that we all want to live in."

TH: "What's the driving factor of making the new movie The 11th Hour?"

Leila: "The biggest reason for making The 11th Hour was that we felt that that state of the planet, the health of its ecosystems, is not fully understood by most people. And since the earth is our only home, why gamble with the life-support system of the only planet we can live on? We believe that if people understand the truth of the situation, then they will act to preserve their futures. The act of securing the future includes preserving the environment."

TH: "You mentioned that the movie is reframing the discussion about environmental issues...moving it from being thought of as an environmental movement to a human movement...can you explain that more?"

Leila: "Environmentalism has long been considered an issue that one can choose to accept or not; as if, the environment is something 'over there' that we can choose to engage in it if and when we want to. The reality is we ARE the environment, and the environment IS us; the environment is not separate from the human issue. I say this because of a few basic facts:

1. The earth is the human species' only home

2. The earth's life support systems: the air, the water, the soil, the trees, etc., all create conditions that support the survival of human life

3. Without healthy ecosystems, without the air, the water, the soil, humans could not live here, we would go extinct.

So, environmentalism is a human issue; the health of our ecosystems is directly related to human health and the survival of our species. So caring for the environment means caring for ourselves."

TH: "What's been the response to the movie so far?"

Leila: "The film has not been released yet but the reactions from some of the screenings have been encouraging. We are looking forward to seeing how the film impacts people and society at large."

TH: "You are, also, working on an effort call Action Campaign, what is it, who's involved and what are you hoping to accomplish with Action Campaign?"

Leila: "The film has inspired people to think about what they can do to change; to help build a sustainable world. The The 11th Hour Action Community is built to help people plug into solutions and more important, connect with each other to help tackled the big issues. We should all change our lightbulbs and try to lighten our footprint by doing the things we can do at home and at the office; but we have to take it a big step further. We have to have our mayors take our towns and cities solar; we need to switch our buying habits en masse to help corporations create better manufacturing practices; we have to call on the next president of the United States to create a plan toward rapid sustainability on all fronts, including the reduction of climate change gases. Reinventing our infrastructure for a sustainable world is a big task, but it is an exciting one, full of opportunity. The 11th Hour Action community will be part of this change."

TH: "So what's next for you?"

Leila: "After The 11th Hour, I am working on two films that explore solutions that can be found in nature. One is on the work of Paul Stamets and how mushrooms can save the world; and the other is a collaboration with Kenny Ausubel about nature's operating instructions, who nature has a lot of the answers to how to design society, if we just take the time to look to nature for the answers."

Over the next few weeks, I'll post several interviews and a full-description about how green LA really is…from my New Yorkers perspective – of course. It is safe to say that Los Angeles has food, business, design and architecture moving in a way that can compete with some of the greener cities in the United States.