When B.C. filmmaker Velcrow Ripper started making "Occupy Love" in 2009, some of his activist friends weren't sure what to make of his questions. How can the crises we're facing socially, economically and environmentally become - of all things - a love story?
"Occupy Love" is the culmination of twelve-years spent filming social movements for his Fierce Love trilogy (it's the third installment, after "Scared Sacred" and "Fierce Light"), but Velcrow Ripper's involvement with social activism started even before that.
Growing up in Gibsons, B.C., in high school Ripper became involved with local environmental campaigns protesting the spraying of DDT, and worked to establish a student-run broadcast cable channel that still exists today. In 1995 he filmed and participated in the environmental protests at Clayoquot Sound and he says the fact that he grew up in a province with such a vibrant environmental movement shapes what he does today. It's certainly a part of this trilogy.
Despite the initial confusion on the love story question, Ripper continued filming social movements from the Arab Spring to the European Summer, Occupy Wall Street and environmental movements. And he started seeing a shift, with more and more people responding: "Of course it's a love story."
What that means is that the social movements emerging in response to these crises are becoming a movement of movements, joining in interdependence and interconnectedness.
I asked Velcrow Ripper about the way we see these kinds of movements represented in the mainstream media, about how if you're not actually involved on the ground you might think some of the movements are no longer active. Ripper replied:
"I think the mainstream media doesn't understand social movements, they don't understand the interconnections between movements. They think in terms of news cycles and they only respond to spectacles...They see things in isolation, which is a real problem in Western society in general...it's only when movements really have this full bloom moment that they get noticed but movements don't stay in that mode all the time."
He noted there are so many things happening outside of just demonstrating on the street, such as developing local food production or alternative energy, that are an integral part of building social change.
I also wanted to know what he, as someone who's spent more than a decade involved in social movements, thinks about the common belief that young people -- at least in the West -- just don't care about issues or political involvement. While he stressed that one of the most important things about the movement of movements is that it's open to everyone regardless of age, he thinks young people are playing an important role, and he mentioned in particular the energy First Nations youth have shown taking part in Idle No More.
"I think there's been a shift in the new generation that's coming up, the youth of today. I think the time of the slacker is over and the new generation is solution-oriented. They are inheriting a world that's been messed up by greed and they want to reclaim that world. Rolling Stone Magazine said the Occupy Movement was a generation going on strike against its own culture. I have a tremendous amount of hope for the generation that's coming up."
One of the most interesting things about the way Fierce Love Films is rolling out the project, is that they've made it available to the community before movie theatres, when usually it's the other way around. Ripper connected this approach to his practices of spiritual activism, where the process is important and not just what you achieve:
"In Brazil there was an outdoor screening with 1500 people watching it for free at night. It's really important because it's a movie about communities and moving out of our isolation and our selfishness into a world of interdependence and interconnection, which is what I mean when I say love."
They've made it really easy for practically anyone to host a community screening. Over 200 screenings have happened or are being organized in more than 25 countries. Iin the next week there will be (just in Canada) screenings in Prince Rupert and Harrison Mills, B.C.; Bathurst, New Brunswick and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The theatrical tour starts May 3 and along with that they're also launching a new mobile app called Found Love. The app will let users upload photos of hearts they see around their communities (in the film Ripper uses his phone to take pictures of all the heart-related graffiti he sees wherever he goes) and the pictures will be collected into a map to show that love and the desire for change is all around.