Interview: Filmmaker Of Breathless In Zion

BY ON March 11, 2013
Air pollution along the Wasatch Front.

Air pollution along the Wasatch Front.

This is an interview with Niles Urry, editor of EnviroNews USA, and filmmaker
oBreathless in Zion. This was written by Cherise Udell and Bridget James:

MCAF: Niles, what originally inspired you to create a document of the story of “Utah’s Battle for Clean Air”?

Niles: If you want to know the honest truth, it was one of your [Utah Moms For Clean Air] rallies on Capitol Hill in either late 2009 or early 2010 that inspired me to commence work on this film. I have worked on a myriad of environmental sagas and documentaries in the past, but when I saw you [Cherise] at the state Capitol with Salt Lake City school children, lobbying politicians for cleaner air because they were being kept inside from recess for days, or even weeks on end, I was truly moved by the scope of this issue. I mean, just think of it! How ridiculous and sad is it when we’ve come to a point where our own children cannot even go outside and play because if they do, they’ll experience physical harm that could plague them for the rest of their lives? The issue of air pollution is truly out of control in Utah, and in many other locations around the country…and the world for that matter.

In documenting this story for the last 4 years, what do you see as the biggest challenge in cleaning up Utah’s air?

Obviously, it’s not going to be easy to address the issue of vehicle pollution from traffic. Industry is another story because the people could put a stop to their shenanigans if they really wanted to and if they were organized enough. It’s all really up to the people and their willingness to demand change, or serious consequences for corporations and industrial source polluters if they don’t adhere to the demands of the communities in which they operate. There are many challenges involved in cleaning up our air, but fixing the amount of combustion engines that we have driving down the road will be key if we truly want clean air as well as a stable climate. We lay out a clear path of dealing with the challenges of in the major components that contribute to air pollution in the film, Breathless in Zion.

In your opinion, who is the biggest culprit when it comes to dirty air in the state of Utah?

That’s a loaded question, and it all depends on how you look at it. It’s easy to point the finger at Kennecott Utah Copper who is easily the largest source point of pollution in the valley (and one of the largest in the world).  But, never forget, it is laws and lawmakers that allow them to do what they do. And the people elect those lawmakers. I’m not saying it’s the people’s fault, but it has been demonstrated time and again that corporations who have a responsibility to their shareholders for the bottom line will put profit over the health and welfare of the people nearly every single time. Corporations that pollute don’t really have a conscience. They won’t change unless their profit is threatened by shut down, massive lawsuits and so forth. In most cases, polluting corporations won’t change unless they are forced to change.

So what can individuals do to make a difference?

We so often hear,“Oh, you’ve got to drive less” or “You’ve got to turn the lights off,” and that is all true, but equally important is for the individual to take responsibility for their own part in government and the political process. If an individual wants to see a positive change in the environment, then they’ve got to start electing officials who stand for the environment. Until enough individuals make that choice, we will continue to get steamrolled by big industry.

What are your hopes for this film? What do you wish to accomplish with it?

In the case of air pollution, it’s not that difficult to blow the whistle and expose the root causes of the pollution — this is one element of the film. Much more difficult, is demonstrating a comprehensive path to clean air. We’ve gotten ourselves into this mess and now we’ve got to figure out how to get ourselves out without too many economic and lifestyle hiccups. So, it is absolutely my goal with this film to lay out a path to clean air in the state of Utah. Let me be clear by saying that it is not going to be easy, but that it is without question possible. There are going to be difficult choices to be made if people truly want to clean up the air. Not every job and every luxury will be able to be maintained if the air is to be free of poison. In Utah, there has been a lot of “pussyfooting” around when it comes to tough choices, but if the air gets bad enough, it may force the hand on some of these elements. Unfortunately, I have observed human nature often waits until things are damaged beyond repair before we make these changes and take action. I sincerely hope that it’s not the case with Utah’s air pollution crisis, because unlike an area such as LA, or other metropolitan areas where they have constant and continual pollution as a reminder, in Utah we are hampered by seasonal and dangerous RED AIR pollution spikes. It is not uncommon to see Utahans experience collective amnesia when the air quality improves. But make no mistake, exposure to these dangerous spikes is very serious indeed. In fact, according to new numbers published by the American Heart Association, 10-14% of all deaths in the state of Utah may now be attributed to ongoing exposure to air pollution. The average lifelong citizen along the Wasatch Front is said to have 2 years shaved off of their lifespan from our air. This is unacceptable!

Our aim with the movie is to make the choices and courses of action very clear. Although some will be pertinent for Utah’s unique situation, most could be universally applied to communities around the country and the world. So ultimately, my vision for Breathless in Zion is that it will serve as a guide for communities working to clean up their air quality.

Naturally, telling the story of air pollution is no small undertaking. Utah Moms for Clean Air has been working on this issue now for several years and air pollution’s tentacles seem to reach far and wide. We’ve seen you rolling cameras on this film for over 4 years and I’m curious as to your course of action to get the film finished and available to the public so we can receive its benefit.

Glad you asked that question. When we first commenced work on this documentary it became clear very quickly that this project was going to be a monumental task. At the time, the economy was in the tank and so raising money was extremely difficult. We’ve been privileged to continue work on this in conjunction with EnviroNews Utah with whom we have helped produce over 30 air pollution segments that can be viewed here. However, over the last 4 years, the increase of social media and the advent of “crowdfunding” has been a game changer for independent filmmakers seeking to bring their visions to life. We have created a project on IndieGoGo in hopes of generating the support to get Breathless in Zion finished once and for all. Our campaign ends on April 9, so time is of the essence!

WATCH the trailer for Breathless In Zion:

Thank you Niles!

Photo: Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News


TOPICS: Clean Air Rules and Regulations, Pollution, Utah