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New film “Little Warriors” features youth climate fight in unlikely place: Indiana

Kids in Indiana are spearheading a movement to fend off the prospective ravages of climate change.

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Climate change will impact future generations and the current youth more than anyone else, so perhaps it’s no surprise that kids have increasingly become the face of the modern U.S. climate movement.

At the center of that movement is the ongoing lawsuit filed by the group Our Children’s Trust against the federal government for failing to act on climate change despite its intense study for decades by climate scientists, many of them on the payroll of the U.S. government. That case, barring any pretrial negotiations between the two parties, will head to trial in February. Further, 13 “Youth Climate Intervenors” all under the age of 25 were allowed in as legal Intervenors in an ongoing lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for its green-lighting of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Flying under the radar, though, has been the seemingly unlikely ascendancy of a youth-led movement in Indiana led by the group Earth Charter Indiana. Indiana is hardly a state known for its deep green consciousness and was formerly a major natural extraction hub and is still a major coal extraction state.

But, indeed, kids in Indiana are spearheading a movement to fend off the prospective ravages of climate change. Their efforts are chronicled in a new film, “Little Warriors,” set to premiere at two screenings at the ongoing Indy Film Festival held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

(Full Disclosure: I was interviewed for the film and helped with some brainstorming about the film behind the scenes, thus am mentioned in its closing credits.)

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The 23-minute short film, directed and produced by Indianapolis-based documentarian and filmmaker Sam Mirpoorian, will also play in late August in Washington, D.C. at the Global Impact Film Festival. It recently won the Kurt Vonnegut Spotlight Film Award at the Indy Film Festival, given to eight films which fit within the ethos of the late novelist’s work, including in the area of environmental conservation.

“Little Warriors” centers around the push by the kids of Earth Charter Indiana, both an activist and educational group, to get localities in the Hoosier State to pass climate change resolutions. Those resolutions are essentially pledges by cities, such as in Indianapolis and its northern suburb neighbor Carmel (run by a Republican Mayor), to propel forward with meaningful action on climate change.

The kids of Earth Charter have testified at governmental hearings and spoken out at other public events, doing so under the tutelage of Jim Poyser, the group’s founder and executive director, as well as the former Managing Editor of Indianapolis’ alt-weekly newspaper, NUVO. Poyser and the kids he has mentored are the stars of Mirpoorian’s film and Mirpoorian, as we discussed in an interview (full transcript below), has the intention to have the film screened nationwide.

Beyond Mirpoorian’s “Little Warriors,” a team of documentarians is also making a film about the Juliana v. U.S. lawsuit, titling it “YOUTH v GOV.” Mirpoorian and I spoke about his film, about the youth-led climate movement, about where his film might screen next, his next projects and more.

Steve Horn: What inspired you to make a film like this, about what kids are doing about climate change, as opposed to what adult-oriented movements are doing about it?

Sam Miro: I’ve always wanted to make a film on climate change. The overall topic of climate change has been something I’ve been fascinated about since I was in high school, around my sophomore to junior year and especially when I joined the Green Team Club. Comedic enough, I think subconsciously that was a pivotal moment for me, because from there, I wanted to learn about the environment more and wanted to recycle and do other environmentally-minded things.

This film and the experience I just finished, though, took me to another level when it comes climate change and understanding everything about it. A good friend of mine, documentary film-maker Andrew Cohn, introduced me to Jim Poyser and his work with kids, which is climate change education and activism via his group Earth Charter Indiana.

Image credit: Aliya Wishner

Andrew and I were having lunch and I shared with him that I wanted to make a film on climate change, but I didn’t really have much of an idea of how to approach it at such a small scale with such a microcosm here in Indianapolis. Andrew talked about Jim and his work, and immediately I was interested and knew I had to meet him.  

SH: It’s pretty interesting that this is happening in a state most think of as a blood red state, at least in terms of the electoral map and voting. What do you make of that and were you surprised at all to see this effort taking off in Indiana of all places? I mean, the Vice President of President Donald Trump‘s White House is none other than Mike Pence, Indiana’s former Governor and it’s not exactly the most climate-friendly White House to put it mildly.

SM: At the state level in Indiana, we’re severely behind in many things and climate change is one of them. It was a nice change of pace and somewhat hopeful to see that one of the biggest cities in the country took such an issue on. Indianapolis is blue itself, so I wouldn’t say ultimately that Indianapolis serves as an accurate reflection of what our state is all about, on top of having blue leadership in Mayor Joe Hogsett.

I believe other cities are going to catch on to what Indianapolis is doing, and I hope from there nothing but resolutions/ordinances can be adopted, like the one that was passed here in Indy. I wasn’t entirely surprised, but it was a great change of pace, and provided some hope for me, as I know other cities/states can take from us and make it happen in their area. The biggest and best thing of it all, though, is that these are youth-led movements. That’s the brightest and monumental thing about it.

SH: Tell us a bit more about Jim Poyser and the group he runs, Earth Charter Indiana, and how his group came to be. Poyser plays a central role in your film.

SM: Jim Poyser is a fantastic human being and I hope as many people in this lifetime are able to meet and have an enlightening conversation with him. He joined Earth Charter Indiana after years of dedication to the alt-weekly newspaper here in Indianapolis, NUVO, where he worked as its managing editor. I won’t tell you why he left to become the head of Earth Charter Indiana and found Youth Power because I don’t want to spoil the film!

Image credit: Sam Mirpoorian

But that said, Poyser has changed these kids’ lives on a daily basis as both a mentor and educator. When I was around the ages of seven through twelve years old, all I was worried about was when I’d get to try out for the basketball team or when would I be able to play Nintendo next. He gets these kids ready at a young age for what is to come on climate change meaning he uses a practical teaching method to show such a dim and potentially disastrous series of events and the overall concept of climate change, in a fun, learnable, and entertaining way.

I personally believe that without people like him, our generation would be doomed. The time is now and every single day counts at this point when trying to fight, educate, and make plans of action in the name of climate change. We need more people like Jim.

SH: Has or will the Governor of Indiana watch this film, Republican Eric Holcomb, the former Lieutenant Governor of Mike Pence’s administration? How about Pence?

SM: I don’t have means, or at least haven’t tried to get this film seen by our Governor, and the same applies to Vice President Mike Pence. It would be pretty cool and educational for them to see, 100%. Especially with this White House’s current views on climate change overall, I’d full-heartedly welcome the chance for Pence to watch this!

SH: What would you say are the biggest takeaways from the film and things you learned in making the film and what will your next film project be?

SM: The biggest takeaway for me., and I wish I was aware of this at the time of my own youth, is that whatever age you are, your voice matters! Filming with kids over an array of ages, from elementary to young college students, it was an absolutely beautiful thing to see.

For example, when 10-year-old Ella presented a climate change PowerPoint presentation in her public school’s cafeteria here in Indianapolis, with over 150 kids just beaming at her Or when 20-year-old Molly Denning went to the Bloomington, Indiana City-County Council and discussed and pitched what a resolution would look like in that city, and how being an IUStudent, as well as playing a vital role in the Indianapolis resolution, could result in having a Bloomington climate action plan see life.

Jim help provide the motivation and education for all these kids. And look, they’re contributing in the best possible way they can, at their specific level. These kinds of things carry on in every aspect of life. Whether it may be big or small, change is change and baby steps like this are the kinds of things we need to propel better tomorrow both at the city- and state-level. This kind of movement can be contagious.

I’ve been on a groove working on social justice pieces right now, with my first film was on homelessness and now this one being about climate change.

In that same vein, I’m starting to lean in the direction of making a film on the refugee situation here in Indianapolis, and documenting the hardships and the kind of struggles they go through on a daily basis. It’s something general public should know more about because there’s a nasty stigma on the subject at the moment.

SH: Where are you hoping to see the film screen going forward and when can a national audience give it a watch? ᐧ

SM: I’ve submitted to a total of 28 film festivals, both nationally and overseas. That includes being accepted at the Indy Film Festival and the looming Global Impact Film Festival coming up in late-August in Washington, D.C. I’ve also submitted to Indianapolis’ Heartland Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, Portland EcoFilm Festival, Denver Film Festival, Twin Cities Film Fest, Calgary International Film Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, LA Short Films Festival and many others.

I’d like to have a couple public screenings here locally in the Indy-area, as well, this summer within the next two months. This topic is universal and applicable to all walks of life, as this is our planet. Once the festival circuit is complete, which will start and end from about July through October or November-ish, I’d like to get this film on TV through any kind of potential placement possible, but I’m going to aim for PBS, most likely at the WFYI station in Indianapolis, but the national station would be amazing too!

Nonetheless, I’m grateful for anything! My goal is to have this film publicly accessible via some sort of streaming service by this winter, for example Amazon, Netflix, etc. In the end, it was a remarkable experience for me, not only as a storyteller, but as a human being. This is our planet, and we’ve only got each other. This is our time and the time is now.

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