Recent McDaniel College graduate Luke Fisher, of Westminster, has always been interested in film and the environment. Last January, he had the opportunity, alongside about a dozen other students, to take a trip to the Peruvian rain forest as part of the college's The Forest Online course on entrepreneurial storytelling. While there, Fisher created a short documentary, "The Forest's Edge." Last week, "The Forest's Edge" screened at the Global Impact Film Festival in Washington, D.C., where it won an award for Best Visual Documentary. The Times caught up with Fisher to discuss the trip, the rain forest and documentary filmmaking.
Q: How did you get involved with the Forest Online course?
The college was offering a trip to Peru and they were looking for people who wanted to tell digital narratives while they were there. I was a cinema major who was really interested in environmental documentaries. I never thought I would be selected, but I did and I got to make my movie.
Q: What did you learn on your trip?
I've always been interested in environmental issues, but I realized that back home, it's easy to say who are the heroes and who are the villains. In deforestation, the good guys are the ones trying to save the rain forest and the bad guys are the ones tearing it down. Once you're there, you realize it's way more complicated than that. People need to have economic opportunity, and if they don't have any other options than cutting down a forest, they're going to make that choice. All environmental issues are social issues. My film looks at the different issues that entails. There are miners and loggers who go into the deep rain forest and trick young girls into coming with them telling them about jobs there, only to force them into prostitution. The film looks into that. We also met this British Army vet who has PTSD and was near suicidal. When he got into the rain forest, he had a new lease on life. The film looks at all of these social issues.
Q: How did you find these stories while you were there?
I was really fortunate before I went on the trip to have had a really great education with professors Slade and Brett. They prepared me to know that once you're on the ground how you tell your story is all about listening to people and seeing what they're feeling and trying to put that into film. You have to tell their story, into your story. It was crazy to be talking to this guy, Harry, who was the British Army vet. He was so open with his story and told of all the things he saw in Afghanistan where he was serving, and then how this natural wonder saved him. It goes to show we have this connection to nature that we sometimes ignore, and when we do that, it brings more problems into our lives. We have to appreciate that connection and serve as stewards of the land.
Q: What were your lodgings like once you got to the rain forest?
We stayed with ARCAmazon which is a group that has a reserve in the rain forest there. They have these platforms that are raised up from the ground and they have roofs on them that are made out of converted billboards that are not used anymore in the cities. There would be about 15 bunks on each platform and a bug net that you put around each bunk. It was an amazing experience to sleep with the sounds of the jungle. I remember one night there was the craziest storm I've ever seen. Lightning strikes were coming down less than three miles from us, banging and crashing. It was crazy and it was an amazing experience. It was the first time out of the country for me.
Q: What inspired you to enter the finished film into festivals?
I was getting good feedback from professors and people who were seeing it. They kept telling me you've got to send it out to festivals. When I heard about Global Impact, I thought this sounds like a good fit for my film. They were really looking for films that were bringing light to different social issues. I sent this one in, but again didn't think I'd get in. I ended up getting an award, which was really exciting, because the movies there were all so amazing. I was shocked that I was able to take home a prize.
Q: What first interested you about filmmaking?
As a kid, I had my mom's camcorder and I was always running around trying to make movies. When I was graduating high school, I started to get away from it. I was more interested in English and journalism and all of these other things. I think back on those studies as having contributed to me as a filmmaker. They were offering a script writing course, and I wanted to improve my writing. Soon, I fell in love with the idea of making movies. I've always been a storyteller, the medium just changed from novelist or a journalist into a filmmaker.
Q: Has the environment always been a passion of yours?
Environmentalism has always been something that's been a part of who I am; I can't really explain it. In Peru, they have this legend in a way that says every person on this planet has their own special mountain and that's a place that you have a deep connection to that you can't explain. I was talking to one of my professors and he said he believes that goes beyond that. It's not necessarily just a mountain, it could be any place. For me, I've always been happiest in the woods. Here in the states that's just a pine forest, but then I got the opportunity to go down to the jungle. It was an amazing experience and I hope I get to do it again.