Early in Tzu Chi’s history, Master Cheng Yen was offered a pristine piece of land upon which to build schools. The land was so astonishingly beautiful that she turned the offer down. In her view, our responsibility to protect the environment was of greater importance than any other consideration.
Such dedication is rare unfortunately, and if someone doesn’t stand in opposition, environmental concerns can be forced aside in favor of other factors. As a case in point, a battle over Navajo land use recently arose in Arizona. Documentary director Daniel Ferrara, who began working with Tzu Chi USA in 2015 and is passionate about environmental protection, proposed to make a film about it.
In “Keep it Grand” Ferrara uncovers how an untouched area in the Grand Canyon – America’s majestic treasure and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World – has caught the eye of a developer who sees it as an ideal spot for a massive tourist resort. However, conservationists, activists, and Navajo elders disagree, and they put up a fight.
In fact, the area targeted for development is located above the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, a site considered sacred by more than 18 Native American tribes. At the moment, it will take you hours to drive there, but developers want to build highways and a tramway leading down to where the rivers meet.
Renae Yellowhorse, a Navajo matriarch who shares Master Cheng Yen’s deep love and respect for the Earth, won’t hear of it and started Save the Confluence, a Navajo activist group. But she has to contend with opposition from some of her own people, as the perks of development are not lost on a Native community struggling with chronic unemployment. Will the lure of jobs entice them to cast aside an ancestral duty to protect sacred land?
With the longest lasting drought in 1,000 years; rising temperatures associated with climate change; and overgrazing due to imposed land use permits; fertile ground in the Grand Canyon is rapidly turning to desert. And in some communities like Williams, Arizona – a picturesque town along historic Route 66 – hauling water and tracking reserves by the gallon is already part of life, making theirs a cautionary tale of what could lie ahead for much of the American Southwest.
This complex story about the convergence of culture, climate, economics, and ecology is garnering a lot of attention. “Keep it Grand” premiered at Climate Week NYC 2015, at a Tzu Chi USA screening event: FACES: 3 Short Films About the People Impacted by Climate Change. And now in 2016, the documentary is about to appear in four film festivals.
“Keep it Grand” is part of the line-up at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival, which showcases socially conscious, environmentally aware and outdoor adventure films. It will screen on February 13th at 7 pm, at The Orpheum Theater, 15 W. Aspen Ave, Flagstaff, Arizona.
Next stop, the 22nd Sedona International Film Festival, which features the best in independent film from around the world. It will screen on February 20th at 9:00 am at the Sedona Performing Arts Center, 995 Upper Red Rock Loop Rd, and on February 22nd at 6:20 pm at the Harkins Theatres Sedona 6, 2081 W. Highway 89A.
At the same time, “Keep it Grand” will screen at the 10th Annual Colorado Environmental Film Festival on February 20th at 1:30 pm, in the Foss Auditorium of the American Mountaineering Center, 710 10th Street in Golden, Colorado. And to round off it’s spring tour of the U.S., “Keep it Grand” is in Official Selection at the Phoenix Film Festival which takes place April 7-14, but screening times have not been released yet.
We invite you, our friends and supporters to attend these festivals if you’re in the area. Filmmaker Daniel Ferrara looks forward to meeting you!