sexta-feira, março 29, 2013

Interview with James Cameron

On April 2010 I went to Manaus, capital of the Amazon state in Brazil to cover an International Sustainability Forum. I then managed to interview James Cameron, director of Avatar.

James Cameron (Foto: Angela George / Wikimedia Commons)

I've offered the interview for the Estonian newspaper Postimees. They published it (translated to Estonian) here.

And here is the English version. Enjoy! 

The loss of the Oscar 2010 for the direct competitor The Hurt Locker has not shaken the filmmaker James Francis Cameron, director of Titanic, Terminator 2 and of the biggest blockbuster of all time, Avatar.

His biggest pride wasn’t also the profit made with it, more than US$ 2,5 billions all around the world. For Cameron, the greatest merit obtained by Avatar was the immense repercussion of the environmental message brought by the film, a mix of political debate, spiritualism and nature’s preservation.

Born in Ontario, Canada, James lives today in the United States. He was in Brazil for the first time last March, to participate in a Sustainability Forum, in Manaus, at the Amazon State. Our international correspondent Luis Corvini Filho followed his speech and interview and gathered Cameron’s opinions about North-American politics, the energy industry in USA, societal environmental engagement and a preview of what Avatar 2 can bring to the movies.

You were invited by the Govern of Amazon to shoot Avatar 2 inside the Rainforest. Is this possibility viable and what can we expect in this sequence?
I can only anticipate that Avatar 2 will pass inside the oceans and forests of Pandora, and that is more than I’ve said for anyone until now (laughs). About shooting inside the Rainforest, I would welcome an opportunity to make a film that celebrates real forest of Brazil. Since I love everything in 3D, maybe this could be a film that put the audience into the forest in 3D, to make it exciting, making it real for them. I look forward to an opportunity to do that. But I should remind everybody that the forest of Pandora in the movie Avatar was done 100% with computer animation. We didn’t shoot a single foot of film in any forest anywhere. And when we make the second film, we’ll do it in the same way, because the style has to be the same.

What would be your suggestion for a film inside Amazon Forest?
For me to shoot here, I have some different opportunities. Perhaps I can make a documentary that is associated with Avatar. Maybe I can come here with the actors, maybe we can enter the Rainforest, maybe we can talk with some of the indigenous people, and maybe we can raise world awareness with some kind of project like that. Personally I wouldn’t want to bring a giant Hollywood film crew with all their trucks and everything, and start toppling the real Rainforest, and pushing in on indigenous people that are living quietly. But I think there is a way to do this, that is smart from a media standpoint and can help raise awareness, plus I think it would just be damn fun to do.

What message you wanted to give to big corporations with Avatar?
I think Avatar is pretty rough on the business community, at least as represented by the people that we see in the film, working in an extraction industry in a remote place, taking liberties with the rights of the people that live in that environment. The way most business people see things is only the cheapest way to do something or the method that creates the best profitability, the best margin, not being necessarily the way that’s best for the planet or best for other people who might be in their way.

And how corporations can become more sustainable?
People need to think differently. If they change their perspective, they’ll see that the path that is best for the planet, in the long run, is the best for the market and for the economy also. The problem is it may not be on a quarter-to-quarter basis. And I think that’s going to be the hardest challenge in all of this, finding business models that work, and finding free market models that work. We are going to have to change the way we create value or assign value in the world from the way it’s done today. But there are many very responsible people in business, who actually do want to make a difference. They want to find business models that they can make jobs and create innovation in a direction that is positive. And that number is growing every single day.

How to make humans return to respect Nature like the Na’vis?
We live in a very technological world, with a lot of electronic equipment around us. We don’t make our own food, we don’t produce our own goods. The last couple of generations moved us farther away from a day-to-day connection with nature. I am 56 years old. When I was growing up, I worked on my grandfather’s farm. I helped with the wheat harvest, at the end of each summer. I had a sense from where food came from. These days most of our food is produced by big industrialized agricultures. I think we have to relearn to experience Nature. That’s why I was making a big point in the indigenous people, who really understand it because their life has been based in a deep understanding of Nature and its cycles, and their place in it. And this “old wisdom” is what we need to respect, celebrate and reconnect Nature with the society.

What is the importance of the climate crisis debate in politics?
This absolutely is the most important thing that society could be talking about, and I mean that in a worldwide level. These are issues of survival, of the quality of life and the nature of the world that we are going to pass on to future generations. I think vice-president Al Gore said it absolutely beautifully (during the speech of former vice-president of the USA in the same event), that we’ve been given probably the greatest responsibility that any generation in the history of human experience, and we need to rise up to that challenge as a society. So the more we talk about it, and the more as part of the political conversation, the better.

And how can we do it?
We need to make a grassroots movement throughout this society, throughout the North-American and European society, to move this subject to the forefront of the public debate. When the Titanic transatlantic crew saw the iceberg ahead, they rang the bell three times. From the ring of the bell to the moment of impact, it took ninety seconds. Despite of their most desperate efforts, because the ship was too big and had too much inertia, they hit. My doubt is: are we in those ninety seconds, between the ring of the bell and the fatal collision? Our biggest challenge is to be able to change quickly enough and in a large enough scale to avoid disaster. There are people of good will and conscience that are already doing everything that they can, but they aren’t enough.

What is your evaluation comparing Bush’s administration with Obama’s administration in the sustainable development and ecology issues?
I think we have a fundamental difference between the Bush administration, which wasted eight critical years, in fact it did worst than waste it, they were strongly abstractionists, they actually manipulated climate science in an official reporting. It was a horrific time for these issues, and I think it was the most irresponsible administration in the history of the USA. President Obama made some promises during his campaign. I think he needs to focus more in these issues. Frankly, I think the entire democratic political conversation in the USA has got sort of hijacked by this whole healthcare thing. Universal healthcare is an admirable idea, but you can’t have healthcare in an unhealthy planet. You can’t do it. So I just think they’re missing the point. He expended a lot of his political capital on dealing with the healthcare issue and we need to deal with issues that are of fundamental importance to everybody in this planet.

You are saying about Obama’s participation in Copenhagen, during the COP15?
Yes. He went to Copenhagen and he wasn’t able to lead there, because he didn’t have the mandate from congress and the senate to be able to say: “I come here with definitive legislation that we’ve passed on and now we can pass it on to you”. His hands were tied. He is a smart guy, very charismatic, he got his hand on the power right now, he can do a lot of good in the next phase of administration, and I hope that he’ll do that.

What kind of appeal would you do to president Obama, asking him not to send any more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan?
The appeal that I would make is for him really think about the future, about what difference he can make during his time in office. Why these men and women are being sent to fight in foreign soil in Middle East? Because of those bad terrorists who don’t like us? It’s because we’ve been in the Middle East for the last 70 years, taking out oil, dominating their local politics, playing them of against each other and so on and that’s going to continue indefinitely until we don’t need the oil anymore. The way to get the American military out of the Middle East is to change our energy policy. It seems so obvious to me.

 And why isn’t the climate crisis the priority for the American Government?
Because you have big energy companies paying hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby us, to keep that out of the public debate. The sooner we get off oil, the better we are going to be. The sooner we get off coal, the better we are going to be. We won’t put as much carbon in the air, we won’t have to fight wars and we won’t have to pretend to be friends with countries that we fundamentally disagree with on issues of human rights. It all seems very obvious to me. And I believe it’s obvious to president Obama as well, because he is a man of conscience.

What should Obama do so?
I would just encourage him to accelerate the renewable energy program. They’re spending a significant amount of money in renewable energy, I believe it’s 6 billion dollars. That’s great, that’s exactly 6 billion dollars more than the Bush’s administration has spent. And as Al Gore once said at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, when I heard his speak, he said that it’s not that the Bush administration were strongly influenced by the oil lobby, it’s that they were the oil lobby.

Since you mentioned Al Gore, in his book Our Choice, he affirms that we already have the technology to stop climate crisis. With this information, which do you think it is our biggest challenge to face it: consumerism society, the skepticism or the political will?
Well, political will is always just an extension of the public mandate, and until we change our grassroots perception of value, which is reflected in consumerism, the political will is not going to exist. And the skeptics, the organized skeptics, who are really just a special interest group defending special industries, will always have advantage. So I would say it’s consumerism society, I would say it’s a grassroots societal conscience that needs to change, and that will overwhelm the skeptics and will drive the political will.

Do you think Avatar opened a path to more people develop high-budget films with this theme?
I don’t know, I am not sure. I think there’s a possibility that may inspire other filmmakers to say: “OK here’s an example of film that was wildly profitable and took a position”. So if that is the case, the next time they’re in an argument with a studio about something they care about as a script or as an idea, than can say: “well, Avatar made money, and it’s about something”. So studios can’t just definitely say that it doesn’t work from a business perspective. So maybe there could be some progress there. I would like to hope so.

How can Avatar continue to pass the sustainability message?
I am going to look for any way for people to use the experience of Avatar as a portal to understanding the issues of energy and the environment. Maybe I can make a film that connects the ideas of Avatar to some of these environmental and indigenous rights causes that have come to me as result of the release of the film. That’s one thing. We can create secondary sights around the idea of Pandora and the philosophy of Avatar that connect to NGO’s and other environmental organizations. But I think it’s important to realize that we are not doing this to try to make Avatar more popular, we’re trying to do this to engage young people through a piece of entertainment, something they can relate to, through which they can have a learning experience or consciousness raising experience.

I don’t have all the answers on that. Ideally, the trick is to connect them to some actual tangible action that they can take it in their life that will make a difference. And we are not going to start up and solve the World’s problems, we are going to connect groups that have done very good work to understand the problems much better than I do. But it’s somehow taking that feeling of Avatar and connecting it to action. We’re still figuring out how to do this. I committed to come to Manaus about the time Avatar was released. So we didn’t know all of this was going to be happening.

The film transmitted a message of preservation to the whole World. What has Avatar changed in you?
I feel that, with Avatar, an opportunity has been created to actually do more. I have always been reticent because I am not an environmentalist, and I am not a business leader in the field of renewable energy. But now I feel like this is not just an opportunity, it’s a duty. This is something that Susan (Cameron’s wife) said to me a few weeks ago. She said “honey, this a duty, we have to do something here”. And I think she is right. It feels that way. So I am going to get a lot more involved with these organizations, I am going to make my business to know and knot the answers. I am going to put a great deal of my human energy into this, before I get absorbed to do another movie, which takes 100% of one’s energy. So it will be a period of time where I can do my best to make a difference and inspire others to make a difference.

The whole scenario for Whole Foods Market

Organic giant Whole Foods Market has raised the flag. In five years’ time, the company will prompt suppliers to disclosure the use of Genetic Modified Organisms (GMOs) in all the products sold in its North American stores.

The announcement, made on March 8th during the Natural Foods Expo West in Anaheim, California, showed that WFM is on the same page as some organic consumers and also with protest NGOs like and Food and Water Watch. All of them want the labels on the products as soon as possible.

The question has emerged to public opinion once more because of Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s decision to authorise or not the sale of genetic modified salmon.

In the 1990s, FDA announced that there was no difference between genetic engineered (GE) crops and non-GE crops. Since then, protesters critic the lobbying power of chemical companies such as Monsanto, Dow and DuPont over politics and the lack of transparency of food producers on informing if a product has GMOs in it.

Since 2009, WFM in North America has utilised the services of a third-party organization to offer over 3,000 non-GMOs labeled-products to consumers.

Whole Foods Market already deals with the GMOs’ topic in the United Kingdom, where food-labeling laws follows the rules used in the European Union. Other countries with GMOs labeling laws are Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China.

"We are stepping up our support of certified organic agriculture, where GMOs are not allowed, and we are working together with our supplier partners to grow our non-GMO supply chain," declared WFM co-CEO Walter Robb in a statement. On the company’s blog, he said the decision shows “full transparency” and that will develop “additional supply choices for the years ahead”.    

Escritório da Whole Foods Market, em Austin, Texas  (Foto: Aspersions / Wikimedia Commons)

Good for the consumer and for the investor
Whole Foods Market’s decision over GMOs labeling reflects the company’s philosophy and also shows a great understanding of its consumers’ desires.

The organic products retailer started in the 1980’s in Austin, Texas, with 19 members. Today, it is a public-owned 50,000-employee retailer with 346 stores in USA, Canada and the UK. According to Forbes, its market cap is $15.5 billion.

The company is listed as the second greenest retailer in the USA, according to a ranking of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). 100% of its energy comes from renewable sources such as solar and wind.

WHM’s values of selling organic products, creating partnerships and growing wealth through profits in a way that leads to good things for consumers, company and the planet are “a conscious form of capitalism”, in the words co-CEO John Mackey.

Its marketing strategy is to promote the idea of a healthier life and also to “teach” potential consumers the value of organics in their lives. But WFM also sells non-organic products in its shops.

The company’s 1,2 million Facebook fans are fed with posts about cooking tips, offers and sustainability ideals. Recently, the company partnered with organizations linked with the First Lady Michelle Obama to promote healthy meals to children.

Even so, WFM has been nicknamed “Whole Paycheck”, in allusion to its high prices (20 to 25% above normal food prices, the company declared). Mr Mackey said the Wall Street Journal that part of the population doesn’t want junk food, “and they’re willing to pay up for it.”

But all these efforts to promote health might be flawed at least in organics’ main flagship –nutritional benefits. A study released by Stanford University last year showed that there is no substantial difference between organics and conventional food.

But co-CEO Walter Robb said to the Daily Ticker program that characteristics like organics being more sustainable and having fewer pesticides (also disclosed in the study) still justify the purchase of these products.

Despite the controversy, market specialists suggest that Whole Foods’ shares can be a “nutritive” addition to investors portfolios. The company’s last quarterly report showed a net income of $146 million, a result 22,7% more than the same period of 2011 ($119 million). 

In March 22nd, WHM shares in Nasdaq were quoted at $87.78. In one year, they reached a peak of $101.86 and a lowest of $80.81.

In February, Mr Robb revealed in an interview for Bloomberg plans to triple the number of stores in the USA. The chain is to open a health resort in Austin in three years.

Whole Foods Market’s assets include distribution facilities, seafood-processing plant, bakehouse facilities, meat and produce procurement centres, etc.

The company’s revenue for 2013 is expected to be $3,86 billion, 13.8% higher than of 2012 ($3,391 billion).

But the fight for a chunk of the $30 billion organic market in the USA is ferocious, and WFM has fierce competitors like Walmart. The retail-store giant operates over 28 countries and has a market cap of over $ 208 billion, according to Forbes.

The number 24 in Forbes World’s Most Powerful Brands’ list was also the biggest organics seller in 2011, according to the Organic Trade Association. Whole Foods was placed sixth.

But the reason to this is simply numeric, since the other companies have more stores across the United States. Costco has about 600, Supertarget and Safeway about 1,750, Kroger has 2,500 and Walmart more than 9,500 stores under different banners.

Even by having only 4% of its energy consumption coming from green sources, Walmart is just behind Whole Foods in the EPA green companies’ list.

Overseeing the overseas
Whole Foods entered the British market in 2004. It has currently seven grocer shops over London, Glasgow and Gloucestershire.

Unlikely in the USA, the organics market in the UK doesn’t seem to be expanding. According to a Soil Association report, sales have fallen by 1.5% in 2012 and by 3.7% in 2011. The trend goes back until 2008.

WFM is still a humble premium food seller in UK when facing big ones Tesco and Waitrose (which has a similar high end customer roll just as WFM) – in the fight for a parcel of the organics market.

Parque olímpico em Londres é reaberto para visitantes

O parque olímpico Rainha Elizabeth em Londres, fechado desde o fim das Olimpíadas em agosto do ano passado, será reaberto temporariamente para visitas nesta sexta-feira (29). O passeio funcionará nos fins de semana e feriados até o dia 23 de julho.

Na visita restrita à imprensa na última quarta-feira, jornalistas puderam observar que várias estruturas utilizadas nos jogos e previstas no plano original como temporárias, como o estádio de hóquei e a área de aquecimento dos atletas, já não existem mais. As arquibancadas laterais do centro aquático também estão sendo desmontadas para o local se tornar uma piscina pública.

AccelorMittal Orbit é reaberto ao público durante tour

Arquibancadas do centro aquático vão sendo removidas 

De acordo com Peter Tudor, diretor da empresa responsável pelo legado olímpico, são justamente essas reformas o grande mote do tour. “As arenas de basquete e polo aquático já se foram, e estamos adequando as outras para nossos objetivos.  As pessoas poderão ver como tudo era antes do parque e como vai ficar após a reforma”, afirmou.

Ainda como parte da transformação, o parque vai receber quatro mil novas árvores e 100 mil arbustos. Uma rodovia será entregue em maio deste ano para ligar linhas de ônibus até o local. Serão construídas ainda mais 6.800 residências nas áreas vizinhas.

Da antiga área multiuso, restam inalterados o estádio olímpico e torre ArcelorMittal Orbit, a parte principal do passeio. A escultura de metal retorcido de quase 115 metros proporciona uma vista em 360 graus de Londres.

Alunos se divertem com espelho dentro do Orbit
Dentro da plataforma de observação estão ainda dois espelhos côncavos. Dependendo da posição do observador, é possível enxergar a cidade de ponta cabeça.

Entre os muitos pontos turísticos vê-se também o estádio do West Ham, que será aposentado. O time passará a realizar partidas dentro do estádio olímpico na temporada 2016-17.

Aluno observa obras no parque olímpico em Londres

“Deve ter custado muito dinheiro”, questionou Joel Momba, 11, aluno de uma das escolas próximas ao parque olímpico que também participaram da visita.

De fato. Segundo Tudor, a renovação irá custar em 600 milhões de libras (aproximadamente R$ 1,8 bilhão), valor já previsto no orçamento original pré-olimpíadas.

A área norte será inaugurada em julho deste ano e o resto do complexo durante a primavera (outono no Brasil) de 2014.

Vista do estádio olímpico
Morte ao elefante branco
Para dar continuidade ao objetivo de “popular” a área depois da inauguração e evitar que tudo vire um “elefante branco”, os projetistas fecharam acordo com uma empresa de eventos para promover shows e concertos antes mesmo da abertura oficial do parque em 2014.

Além do contrato com o West Ham, o estádio olímpico venceu o concurso para sediar o campeonato de atletismo em 2017 e ainda está na disputa para receber o campeonato mundial de rúgbi em 2015 e o Gay Games de 2018.