It’s been nearly 20 years since the first International Earth Summit and 20 years since Marilyn and Hal Weiner were called upon to produce the summit’s opening film. They’ve been documenting environmental issues ever since through their production company Screenscope. Relaxing together on a sofa in their den, the Weiners describe how they were approached by the then-secretariat for the Earth Summit to produce the opening film. The five minute non-narrated piece, seen by more than 100 heads of state, was such a success that the secretariat suggested they do a whole series on sustainability. Because, Marilyn Weiner says, quoting Maurice Strong, “that’s what people need to hear.”
While the Wieners have produced feature films, as well as dozens of documentaries and other television series, Hal Weiner says Journey to Planet Earth gives them a sense of personal satisfaction that can not be measured in terms of dollars and cents.
“Making money is nice, but saving the environment we came to understand is a little bit more important. So this has been our focus. And what we see are genuine programs by grassroots people all over the world, all over Africa, things are happening in South Africa, things are happening in Kenya, things are happening throughout Asia, throughout Europe, where people understand that there are problems and problems can be solved by communities and community involvement.”
Marilyn Weiner speaks animatedly about one program in particular that was begun by a farmer, who saw his once-arable land turning dry and unproductive.
“One of the things we focus on,” she says, “is in Kenya where we saw a couple that started a small NGO (non-governmental organization) that was planting grass to stop erosion – drought resistant strains of grass that could then be harvested and help the local community. And it was incredibly effective.”
The Weiner’s home is decorated with a varied collection of art and artifacts, seemingly from all over the world. They’ve traveled to some 22 countries on five continents to film segments of their series and have seen some of the earth’s most spectacular landscapes. But they’ve also witnessed some of the world’s worst environmental disasters like the drying of the Aral sea in Uzbekistan. In the 1950s, the then-Soviet Union diverted the rivers that feed the Aral Sea to irrigate cotton.
“Based upon what we learned at the Aral Sea,” Hal says, “we went to Salton Sea, which is just outside of Palm Springs (California). They’re having the same problem, right here in our own backyard.”
Marilyn describes their work as gratifying. But, she says, she is somewhat disheartened by the lack of progress in terms of solving environmental problems. That’s why the series is so important to them.
“Ultimately,” Hal says, “we want people to become better custodians of the environment and become better citizens of a world where you vote politicians in that make these important decisions.”
The Weiners have, so far, produced 13 episodes of Journey to Planet Earth.