ARCHIVED: Adventures in Filmmaking

by Katharine Reece MFA ’12

"Boy, ain’t yo ass cold?" one lady yelled. "Yeah, it ain’t summer, honey!" jeered another. Trevor Wallace '13 just smiled and kept running. It was indeed the middle of winter in Boston, and he could have taken the bus.

But Wallace had just returned from Antarctica, and all he could think about was the exhaust of that bus collecting in the atmosphere, leading to higher temperatures that would melt ice sheets, affecting polar animals and weather patterns all over the world. So instead, he suited up in a parka and shorts, and jogged the two miles to work through Central Square.

Wallace traveled to Antarctica with Students on Ice over winter break of his first year at Sarah Lawrence. The organization, which arranges educational expeditions focused on conservation, offered him a $12,000 scholarship for the journey.

He took along a DVX video camera and made a documentary for his Experimental Film class with teacher Robin Starbuck. The resulting film, The Compass Points South, has been screened at the Museum of Natural History and the Explorer’s Club in Manhattan, where he was just awarded membership. Wallace’s Antarctic journey is just one example of the ways he’s merging filmmaking, adventure, and environmental justice.

"Antarctica is one of the most remote places on earth, and yet our daily activities affect the ecosystems there," Wallace says. "Our society is very detached from the source of what we consume, and knowing where what we use goes after we’re done with it."

Wallace’s film is short and to the point, exploring the intersection between people and nature.

This intersection is most elegantly demonstrated in his close footage of penguins. (Antarctic law stipulates that you can’t approach penguins, but they can approach you.) Wallace rests his camera at an angle on a beach as the birds wiggle their tails and flap their wings. When one curious penguin waddles directly up against the camera, Wallace focuses on the individual drops of water on its slick feathers.

He hopes that this intimate footage, along with the rest of his film, will remind his viewers that nature doesn’t exist apart from humans, or only in national parks.

"If we continue to only see ecosystems as compartmentalized commodities or as remote places, then species will keep disappearing, and things like erosion and global warming will continue harming peoples’ lives around the world. With more images of people acting responsibly in and outside of nature, I think we can become better stewards of the earth and help ourselves," he says.

Antarctica was neither Wallace’s first nor last time abroad—he’s traveled to Thailand, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Fiji, New Zealand, Japan, Bolivia, and Tanzania. Over Spring Break 2011, he went to Colombia and created a documentary short about Kiva, the nonprofit micro-finance organization. In the fall, he will study abroad in Cuba, where he plans to make a film about hitchhiking—a well-established and semi-organized activity there. And Wallace was recently awarded the Meredith Fonda Russell Memorial Fellowship, a grant that will enable him to spend the summer in Nepal, filming another documentary.

Wallace’s travels have all been financed through personal fundraising and scholarship/grant programs. "It has always taken a lot of initiative to find the means to travel because of my socioeconomic background, but many people have helped me along the way," he says.

What will it take to reverse environmental degradation featured in his films? Wallace acknowledges that it’s important for people to make sustainable choices in their personal lives (which may or may not include forgoing the bus for a brisk jog). But more valuable, he says, is that people think of themselves as something more than what they consume. "Although owning a hybrid is nice, being aware of legislation and what is going on around the world is more important."

And that awareness requires asking a lot of hard questions—which is exactly what he’s trying to do at Sarah Lawrence. "It takes extra effort to really know what’s going on, but I want to be part of the people who are asking those questions."