A Film’s Reprise for Earth Day
- by Matthew Brodsky
For Earth Day this year, Sundance Institute will be re-releasing the classic sustainability documentary, Ecological Design: Inventing the Future, which was conceived of and produced by Chris Zelov, WEV’83. The original film came out 18 years ago, when “sustainability” and “green building” were not part of the corporate or pop-culture lexicon.
Ecological Design is imbued with the influence of American designer, architect, inventor and futurist, Buckminster Fuller, who died in 1983. Fuller also served as a World Fellow in Residence at Penn until 1980.
In 1995, when the movie was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, it synthesized knowledge that had been around for years and cinematically rendered it to bring the public up to speed about the importance of Fuller’s oeuvre. The movie explores sustainable design, which dates back to the 1920s if not the ancient Greeks. Ecological Design was well-received, earning a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. The film also won seven other awards and led to the companion book by Zelov, Design Outlaws.
What will be the reaction to the film in 2013?
“It will be giving somewhat of a history lesson so that people can know that sustainability did not just appear on the scene in 2000,” Zelov told Wharton Magazine.
“Sustainability is a buzzword,” he added. “Like any buzzword, there is a deep history and body of knowledge behind it.”
Besides Fuller’s residence at the University, Zelov is also quick to highlight other Penn and Wharton ties in the documentary. These include Ian L. McHarg, a former Penn professor of landscape architecture and regional planning; Thomas P. Hughes, Penn professor of history and sociology of science; Russell L. Ackoff, AR’41, GR’47, the former Anheuser-Busch Professor Emeritus of Management Science and pioneer of operations and systems research; and founders of Andropogon Associates, Carol Franklin, GLA’65, and Colin Franklin, GLA’67; and Pliny Fisk III, C’67, GFA’70, GLA’71.
A filmmaker and producer of five books, and many films, including the recently released City21: Multiple Perspectives on Urban Futures, Zelov can also be found on campus as a frequent attendee and presenter at events sponsored by the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL).
“I was happy to see that sustainability has become part of the corporate matrix,” he said. “The Wharton School is now taking a leadership role.”