Daryl Hannah hasn't made much of a splash in film lately, focusing her efforts instead on environmental activism, specifically in fighting the Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada Corporation is trying to build between the Alberta oil sands and Texas refineries.
But Hannah brought both together here at Austin's SXSW film, interactive and music festival for the premiere of "Above All Else," a documentary she executive produced about a group of rural Texans, led by rancher-turned-activist David Daniel, trying to fight the Canadian company laying pipe through their property with a treetop blockade.
They lost, of course, but Hannah is hoping that their struggle -- and the fact that they're heartlanders, not hippies or elites -- will inspire others to join in the fight.
In an Austin hotel room following the John Fiege-directed film's premiere, Hannah sat down to discuss why she's opposed to Keystone, what it's like being arrested at protests, the backlash against her and Neil Young and how Stephen Harper has "changed" Canada.
How did you get involved in "Above All Else?"
I had been already, obviously, engaged in trying to fight the Keystone pipeline since it's a conduit to further expansion of the Tar Sands. I'm opposed to almost every form of extreme fuel extraction because it’s so wildly destructive to our life support systems and because we also know how to create and produce energy in less destructive, regenerative, cleaner ways.
I had been participating in some activities supporting the communities along the Northern route. I did some other activities in DC and stuff like that to bring awareness to the issue and I was really shocked that all the media was reporting that the Keystone pipeline was delayed and no one was paying attention to the fact that this Southern route has been fast-tracked.
We heard about John [Fiege]’s film ["Above All Else"] and he had been working on this film already for quite some time, it was just unbelievable -- I couldn’t believe the characters and the people that he had been focusing on.
Does it address the problem of the environmental movement being dismissed by conservatives as not "real" Americans?
Yeah, and one of the problems in the environmental movement, period, is that it's considered an 'environmental movement' and not a 'survival movement.' When you separate the environment from the life support systems that it actually is -- uncontaminated water, soil that isn’t poisoned, these things that we need to live, we need to survive, that we are completely dependent upon -- than you've already lost the battle. It's marginalizing it.
You've been arrested at White House protests before, do the police recognize you?
Yeah. They usually pick me out first so that the media will go away sooner than later. (Laughs) Any type of civil disobedience is to show, 'look, we're willing to lay our bodies down on the line.' And it helps bring attention to the issue so that people will actually do research and look into the facts. There's nothing polarizing about the facts once you looked into them; the only thing that is polarizing is the disinformation.
Is it still a scary thing?
What? To go to jail? It's not fun or amazing, yeah -- of course, it’s a scary thing. It's creepy to be handcuffed; it's creepy to be trying to find bail. Yeah, it's scary. In D.C. it's more civilized than when you're in a county jail, which I have been to a few times in different cities, just because they're used to it.
Q&A continues after slideshow
What's your take on TransCanada as a company?
They're a company, you know? They're doing their job. They’re trying to make money. They're trying to be successful. I don’t have a problem with pipelines as a rule, but this pipeline is a conduit to further expansion of the Tar Sands. The Tar sands are already the size of the U.K; they have plans to make it the size of the state of Florida; they have plans to multiply it times five.
It is already the largest industrial project on the planet -- when they're talking about these tailing 'ponds' they're talking about 100-mile long lakes, that's not a pond, where they have to have canons going off 24/7 so that flocks of Canadian geese don't land in there and die instantly because it's so poisonous and toxic, where you have communities like the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation having rare forms of cancer that are normally seen in 1 in every 100,000 people, they have many, many cases in their very tiny communities. And fish coming with tumors and all the wild life being infected with rare forms of cancer and disease -- this is not something that we can afford. That's not even talking about the greenhouse gas emissions that climate scientists have said would be game over for our reversing the climate change phenomenon.
My other problem with TransCanada is the disinformation campaign that they've spread. It's cynical to try to fool Americans that this is oil for us, that it's going to make our gas prices less expensive when it's quite the opposite. It's disingenuous to do that, it also should be criminal to trample on people's rights, their First Amendment rights, their ability to have free speech.
I was forced to sign a paper when I went to jail that was written by TransCanada or they said I wouldn't even be allowed to get out of jail [in Woods County, Texas].
Don't proud Texas feel weird taking orders from a Canadian company?
Don't politicians feel weird taking orders from a Canadian company? Don't we feel weird having a Canadian company taking our property through eminent domain? Why is that not a shocker, you know? Foreign company can take your land through eminent domain without having to prove that it's in the public interest? How is it in the public interest when the public is not going to benefit from it?
As a Canadian, it interesting to see this phenomenon go in the opposite direction.
It's a different world. We think it's America vs Canada, it’s not. It's now become a global corporatized system, it's not a national system that's ruling things anymore. And the fact that they've been trampling on rights, First Amendment rights, on characters in the film like David Daniel, who is not allowed to say anything or he could go to prison or he could get fines.
Are you surprised at the backlash in Canada against you and Neil Young?
Not really. Both in America and in Canada, the economic imbalance is shocking. There’s no middle class, people are just hanging on by their skin and their teeth to make ends meet. And when people are made to fear that their jobs might be at risk if this resource isn't exploited, when fear and lack of information is a motivating force, then yeah. There's going to be [backlash].
But I really do believe that once people understand that we don't have any intentions to stop people from supporting themselves we're just trying to support what’s in the best interest of all living things.
I found it interesting how the debate shifted from oil to "How dare Daryl Hannah and Neil Young tell us what to do!"
It's just silly. Everybody should be allowed to have freedom of expression and certainly artists have always, historically, used their medium that way.
There was so much focus on Young's Hiroshima comparison, do you think those kind of things end up being more helpful or too much of a talking point for the other side?
You know what, I think that it's kind of silly how much we grab on to these things and try to polarize them rather than look at what people are trying to express and say. He was trying to illustrate a point in a visceral way and he was actually quite successful. The fact that he garnered so much debate and attention probably worked ultimately to draw more attention to the issue so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
On the other hand, it’s just ridiculous. If we would stop focusing on these sort of semantic things and focus on what is at the heart of it -- do we really need to scrape off the boreal forest or these ancient wetlands in order to create energy when we know how to produce it another way, just to preserve the record-breaking profits of an industry that needs to start to become an energy industry not just a fossil fuel industry?
Do you think the Keystone Pipeline is going to be stopped?
I hope so! I mean, I know that there’s a growing and massive resistance to it in the United States. President Obama and others involved that never expected this kind of resistance.
Isn't Obama supposed to be a left-wing Democrat environmentalist?
Said who? He's always been a centrist. Said who, honestly? Said Fox News? To me they are all the same. I think politicians, at this point, after Citizens United there is no difference, everybody takes their money from the same people. We don't have an honest political system anymore, we have bought and paid for a political system. Our democracy has been compromised.
How important is it for Americans to try to appeal to Canada and to Canadians on this issue?
From what I hear and read and understand from the citizens of Canada, I'm not sure they're so happy with Harper and his wholehearted support of the exploitative industries either. He's changed the character, the national character of Canada in a shocking way. I mean, Canada was always this beloved, almost heavenly, benign country, and now it's become quite a different place. I hear constantly that Canadians are not pleased with that turnover.
People finally put Bush out of office, you know? Even though he served two terms, he's not a popular figure in this country and when he left office he had a fire sale of our national park lands to oil and gas interests and they were deemed illegal sales subsequently. I mean, this is bad news. You can't have someone with a vested interest in charge of things. It just doesn’t make sense.
And do you think Harper has a vested interest in oil?
He definitely has a vested interest, come on.
How would you make your case directly to the Canadian people?
It's not something that is good for Canadians to decimate the boreal forest and wetlands. It's also not something that is good for us globally because we all breathe the same air, and we all depend on a livable climate. Canada has an amazing, abundant amount of natural resources that can be preserved protected for future generations of Canadians in terms of biodiversity and wildlife. Canada is one of the last bastions of that type of greatness and beauty on the planet.
It's insanity, I don't know how else to put it.
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