Global film got Vail Valley push |

Global film got Vail Valley push

Special to the Vail DailyVail Film: When "Climate Refugees" filmmakers visited Bangladesh, this boy asked them what the United States would do to help his country adapt to climate change.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – The seed for the Vail Valley-backed documentary “Climate Refugees” was planted when Michael Nash read a statement he couldn’t quite get his head around.

There were more “environmental refugees” in the world than refugees from political or religious persecution, according to an article by the United Nations University.

An environmental refugee is a person displaced by an environmental disaster that’s caused by climatic change. The U.N. says there are now more than 25 million climate refugees in the world; that number is projected to grow to 50 million within five years.

What happens when an entire country goes underwater? Nash traveled to the Pacific island of Tuvalu, which many believe would be the first to disappear if sea levels rise.

What happens if a big cyclone hits Bangladesh – a low-lying country whose livelihood depends upon coastal agriculture lands – and millions of people have to move to China or India?

“This film is about the human face of climate change,” Nash said. “It’s about how climate change is affecting mankind. What the film really illuminates is climatic migration’s national security implications, the implications of tens of millions of people crossing borders for survival.”

But the film may never had advanced beyond the idea stage – and all the way to the Sundance Film Festival next month – if not for a group of Vail Valley residents.

Pat McConathy, who owns a ranch in the McCoy area, was one of the first backers of the movie. At a dinner with former Vice President Al Gore and McConathy in Arizona about two years ago, Nash got McConathy interested in “Climate Refugees.”

Still, McConathy’s financial commitment wasn’t enough to make the movie. So McConathy and his former employee, Deb Peek of Avon, set out of raise more funds.

They appealed to a group of local friends and acquaintances, who came to McConathy’s ranch to meet Nash and see some video he had already shot for the project.

One of those people was Rick Slager, a part-time Vail Valley resident. Slager said he and his wife, Brenda, realized that this is a story that needs to be told.

“First and foremost, the issue is real in terms of we have climate changes and I believe those climate changes are resulting in people having to move from their homes and their countries,” Slager said. “It’s a huge issue today and is going to become a bigger issue if things continue on the path we’re on.”

Kurt Vogelman, an Edwards resident, also became an investor in the film. He and his wife, Diane, decided it would be a good thing to do after meeting Nash at McConathy’s gathering.

“I think it addresses an interesting part of the whole refugee problem,” Vogelman said. “It addresses some of the concerns of an expanded population and limited resources, and asks a lot of good questions.”

Ed Swinford, a longtime local resident, also helped fund the film. He noted that Nash wasn’t looking at the causes of global warming, including whether it’s manmade or not.

“Regardless of what’s happening, it seems to be happening, and people are being impacted in different parts of the world,” Swinford said. “There’s enough of that to say, ‘OK, I can put a small amount into this to help.”

Peek also helped coordinate interviews in Washington, D.C. The film includes interviews with politicians from both sides of the aisle, including Sen. John Kerry, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

She got a co-producer credit for film thanks to her efforts, which still continue.

“This is such an important project, you just have to keep marching forward,” Peek said. “Just the education of learning about these countries at risk. All of these countries are trying to fight so desperately over resources.”

“Cultural Refugees” got a huge boost when it was accepted to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, which is later this month. Swinford will go to Utah to attend the screening.

The film has been given a prime screening spot, at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, and is one of the most highly touted films at the festival.

“To have that elite stamp on there, that it was accepted into Sundance, does so much for the integrity of the film,” Peek said.

Nash said he is hoping the film will be accepted into the Vail Film Festival this spring.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or

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