Positive Change is Within Our Grasp

Ed Kashi, co-Director of California: Paradise Burning, on the present state and uncertain future of the Central Valley region.

Ed Kashi is a photojournalist dedicated to documenting the social and political issues that define our times. A sensitive eye and an intimate relationship to his subjects are signatures of his work. As a member of VII Photo Agency, Kashi has been recognized for his complex imagery and its compelling rendering of the human condition. In addition to editorial assignments, filmmaking and personal projects, Kashi is an educator who instructs and mentors students of photography, participates in forums and lectures on photojournalism, documentary photography and multimedia storytelling.

California: Paradise Burning screened at Carnegie Institution for Science on Sunday, March 20th at 12:30 pm.


DCEFF: How did you get involved in filmmaking?

ED KASHI: I started working with video in 2000, in the midst of an 8-year-long project looking at issues around aging in America. From there it has become an increasing obsession and powerful form of storytelling for me. Being able to include the voices of my subjects, using motion and ambient sound has allowed me to tell stories in more interesting and evocative ways.

DCEFF: What drew you to this particular project?

EK: I became interested in the California drought in April 2014 while in San Francisco. I had pitched the idea of doing a photo essay to The New Yorker and over the months as my idea evolved, I had the great fortune of seeing Matt Black’s work on Instagram and reached out to him.

Since the Central Valley is Matt’s home, he feels a strong commitment to producing work that helps focus attention on its present state and uncertain future. So, we decided to do a collaboration and thankfully The New Yorker agreed. From there my original idea of a photo essay on the subject grew into a film where we used Matt’s stunning images and video I shot to create the film we submitted.

DCEFF: What challenges did you face in the process of producing the project?

EK: The main challenges were finding an effective angle, which Matt through his extensive knowledge of the Central Valley solved, and then finding the right subjects, places and moments to evoke the issue but also create a mood.

DCEFF: Why do you think DCEFF is important? Why should people attend?

EK: Any forum for advancing awareness and understanding of the extraordinary issues revolving around our environment is critical today. Never before has mankind faced such darkness in relation to our environment. From my privileged position as a photojournalist and filmmaker, seeing the United States and a large selection of the world, we are in trouble. Mankind is destroying our habitat. Therefore any opportunity to address these issues and get people to think, be inspired to get involved, and work towards the positive change that is absolutely within our grasp is both an honor and duty.

DCEFF: Why do you feel that it’s important to preserve parks and/or protect wildlife?

EK: Our earth is an ecosystem that cannot be managed by humans for our benefit alone. We must continue to coexist and shepherd this extraordinary globe in the universe. Plus ,these are places for humans to enjoy, learn about life and take a breather from our all consuming digital world. After all, we are still animals.

DCEFF: What’s the one takeaway that you want potential viewers to walk away with?

EK: My hope is that audiences will not only learn something particular about the California drought, but will be moved to think about their consumption of water and food, as well as the intrinsic relationship we have to our food producing regions, with the Central Valley of California being on of our most precious and abundant resources. I also hope the film makes people consider those who live and work in that region.

DCEFF: What’s the next project in your pipeline? Does it address the same or another environmental issue that matters to you?

EK: I am currently working on a multi-year project looking at the issue of chronic kidney disease, particularly of unknown origins, that is a growing epidemic mainly impacting the working, rural poor. Climate change is definitely a part of this, but the main drivers seem to be dehydration, exposure to bad water and the chemicals that are used in the agricultural production cycle.



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