The Fire Next Time (2005)

“People on both sides of the resource divide.”

In The Fire Next Time documentary filmmaker Patrice O’Neill examines the conflict over environmental issues taking place in Montana’s Flathead Valley. With a large influx of retirees (and even a few celebrities), real estate values have soared, but the traditional industries–such as logging and millwork have eroded. In this rapidly growing but still pristine area, opinions are divided over various environmental issues including logging, national park road closures, and snowmobile use.

But the difficult situation faced by residents of Flathead Valley becomes much more explosive when other factors are added to the equation. John Stokes purchased local radio station KGEZ, and although he too is a relative newcomer to the area, he rapidly found an audience, according to the filmmaker, amongst the anti-environmentalists. At one point Stokes acknowledges “we can’t assassinate people in this country” while rolling his eyes at the camera, and with inflammatory statements saying that environmentalists should be “eradicated”, calling them “green slime” and Green Nazis, Stokes even led a public green swastika burning amid his cheering coterie of like-minded fans.

All communities have their fringe dwellers on all sides of the cultural/social/political divide. But the situation in the Flathead Valley seems to be far beyond that. It should perhaps come as no surprise that a well-armed militia emerged “with more weapons than the entire police armory”–along with a hit list and a certain amount of vigilante activity directed primarily towards environmentalists and various government officials. But what is surprising is that teachers were pressured to conform (in one case for participating in a Martin Luther King essay contest) and this indicates much broader-based institutionalized problems. Equally disturbing is the mysterious death of a lesbian environmentalist, and her death certainly raises a number of ugly questions.

The unfortunate term ‘ecoterrorist’ is frequently bandied about these days as part of the current green scare, and it’s a term that Stokes uses in the film towards fellow Flathead Valley residents. While one environmentalist argues, “we do happen to be the stewards of this planet,” another resident–opposed to any preservation methods–states “if these environmentalists would just shut up, everything would be just fine.” In many ways, the struggle taking place in the Flathead Valley over resources epitomizes the environmental battle taking place on the planet. What’s so interesting about the situation in this region is that many locals–opposed to environmental protections–see the government agencies as full of “commies.” Some additional background information on the specific issues debated would have boosted this film tremendously, but nonetheless, The Fire Next Time is an interesting, worthwhile documentary.

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Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

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