Forestville thru-hiker makes a film about climate change activism along the Continental Divide
When Connor DeVane left Portland in late spring to hike the Continental Divide Trail, he was a self-described “jaded millennial,” suffering from acute urban alienation and what’s now called “climate grief” — or despair in the face of climate breakdown.
His new film, “Hike the Divide: A Conversation about Climate Action on the Continental Divide Trail” details how he found his footing — both physically and psychologically — and discovered a new sense of hope on the 2,700-mile journey from the Canadian border to Mexico.
It wasn’t merely the physical exertion or the sheer beauty of the landscape that restored him, but his conversations with climate activists from Montana to New Mexico, who were fighting and sometimes winning direct-action battles against various arms of the fossil fuel industry.
DeVane started his adventure in June and finished on Nov. 19.
He had never made a film before, and he put the film together with the help of a friend, who convinced him that the video clips he’d been amassing over the last few months could be assembled into a feature-length film.
The film, which was shown to a standing-room-only crowd at the Arlene Francis Center on Nov. 22, highlights a diverse crew of activists, including a Montana woman who worked with local Native people and non-natives, including a small Amish community, to defeat the largest open-pit coal mine in the continental United States; a rancher in Wyoming who’s bucking the climate denial claims of the beef industry by sequestering carbon in the soil; a builder in New Mexico who’s doing climate-friendly building; and several others, both Native and non-native, who are putting their bodies on the line, making a stand against fracking in several states.
“The takeaway for me is that action is the remedy to despair,” DeVane said.
DeVane, who moved to Forestville recently, said, “The question to ask yourself is ‘Where are the levers? Where do I even begin to try to make a difference?’ The first step is to start talking about it, but the first actionable item is just to find people who are working on solutions and join in.”
“What I like to tell people is, ‘Seriously, just start anywhere, and if you find that that’s not the right avenue for you, those people will have a good idea of where to point.’”
DeVane himself made a big switch while he was on the trail. Initially, he was planning to write a book about his experience. He started filming, with the idea of creating an accompanying video blog, but as the miles scrolled by, he thought his friend might be right and that he had a movie on his hands instead of a book.
Because he wasn’t planning on making a film, he didn’t use professional equipment.
“I used mostly a Sony rx100, basically a point-and-shoot camera that I bought used. When the battery was dead, I used my phone. For the wide shots,”— the ones of him hiking through breathtaking landscapes — “I would set the camera up, go back and hike that stretch again, then go back for the camera. A few of them were shot by other hikers too.”
Logistics were an issue from start. He’d initially planned to have a friend run SAG (an old biking term for someone who meets you along the way with “support and gear”), but his friend backed out just weeks before DeVane was supposed to start his trip. Instead, he had to figure things out on the fly.
Because he didn’t want the weight of carrying a computer, he mailed his laptop from one place to another ahead of him down the trail.
“I’d get my stuff, upload footage, maybe write a blog post, pack it up, mail it off to the next post office down the trail,” he said, noting that it was an incredibly inconvenient thing to do. “I would suggest that no one ever do that. It was insane.”
He usually carried about eight days of food as he hiked, much of which he dehydrated and packaged before the trip and gave to his parents to send to him at various points along the trail.
“My mom is a saint,” DeVane said. “She’s very, very helpful. She was doing a lot of extra dehydrating of food for me and swapping things out of my boxes when I would say things like, ‘If I eat another packet of oatmeal, I’m going to quit.’”
He didn’t quit. He made it the whole 2,700 miles.
In the desert, along the Mexican border, he had a spiritual experience with a wild horse than ran right up to him, whinnying and circling him. It was like hope on the hoof: symbolizing the wildness of land he’d just walked through and the survival of wildness and beauty in the face of overwhelming odds — a fitting and hopeful symbol for the persistence of the natural world in the face of climate change.
Although there are no public showings of the film scheduled in the immediate future, DeVane is eager to see the film get a larger distribution. If you’d like to set up a house party to show the film and have DeVane come and talk about it, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.