Environmental awareness is more important than ever for the Sourlands, a 17-mile stretch of forest that encompasses towns such as Hillsborough, Princeton and everywhere in between. One local filmmaker found it so important that it is the topic of his new documentary film.
Jared Flesher, director of the new independent film “Sourlands” that will premiere on June 27 at the Broad Street Theater in Hopewell, has been on a recent campaign to create awareness of his film about the region which, he hopes, will open people’s eyes as to the importance of a healthy ecosystem in regards to farming, economics and the environment at large.
“The overall goal is to just get people in the seats. They’re going to learn something whether they want to or not,” Flesher said. “You’re going to walk away with some really practical things.”
The film centers around three separate themes—the health of the Sourlands forest, farming in a region like the Sourlands that is not suited for such a use, and energy conservation and its role in helping the environment.
On the health of the Sourlands ecosystem, Flesher said that, despite a pleasant appearance, the forest’s looks can be quite misleading.
“You can drive three minutes and feel like you’re not in New Jersey anymore,” Flesher said. “You feel like you’re in the woods or in the wild. Even though it would look beautiful, if you really know what you’re looking at, the forest is actually not healthy at all.”
Flesher pointed out that the deer population—not just in the Sourlands, but all of New Jersey—is out of control. Flesher stated that the film partially focuses on the imbalance in an ecosystem and how too much of one particular creature or plant species, like the many invasive plant species present in the Sourlands, can make the area unsustainable over time.
Part of the film also follows the life and times of a local farmer who, despite having the desire to farm, does not have the resources. With few other options, the young lady “farmsits” for her neighbors over the course of the summer of 2011, when weather extremes and the generally-inhospitable farming conditions in the Sourlands make farm production difficult for the young farmer.
Flesher hopes that this portion of the film points out how weather extremes, like those seen in 2011, as well as the lack of cooperative, farmable land can affect the availability and economics of farm-grown food.
“She got hammered. There’s no other good way to say it. The connection is that this didn’t just happen. This wasn’t just bad luck,” Flesher said. “Scientists are saying that we’re going to see more and more weather extremes as global warming sets in. We can expect it to affect food prices and access to food.”
Flesher also looked at three separate individuals in the Princeton area–two engineers and a young entrepreneur–who have developed innovative ways to conserve energy and help the environment.
“Not only is Princeton the nation’s center of climate change research, but there’s also a lot of innovation happening with energy,” Flesher said. “I found three guys who I thought were doing something interesting.”
In the end, Flesher believes that individual people will take from the film whichever messages hit home the hardest—which is something that the young filmmaker embraces.
“In filmmaking, there’s this idea that you should be able to walk into an elevator and, in one sentence, give your pitch," Flesher said. "Sourlands doesn’t really necessarily lend itself to that one-sentence pitch, because not only is the story complicated, but the environmental problems that we face are actually very complicated and the solutions are very complicated. I’m not trying to sell it as having all the answers or being all-encompassing, but what it does do is tell the area that, if you’re interested in this area and what’s going on with the environment, you can help. That was my goal. I think the film does it.”
Giving people that power, Flesher believes, can be the catalyst for change.
“The challenge is to give people the truth of what’s happening, but to give people enough of those solutions so they feel like there’s something they can do,” Flesher said. “At least locally, there is something; we can make our forest healthier, we can all support our farmers to grow food which we eat every day and we can do things to use less energy.”
After its initial showing at the Broad Street Theater in Hopewell, “Sourlands” will be showing at the Princeton Public Library on July 11 and at Eno Terra Restaurant in Kingston on July 17. Each screening will be followed by a talk-back session where Flesher will invite individuals who appear in the film to speak on certain subjects and themes presented in the film.
“With all of these screenings, I am always trying to team up with people that are in the film. After the screening,” Flesher said. “I’ll answer questions, but I also want to turn the spotlight on the people who are doing the work to make this place more sustainable.”
For more information, you can visit the film’s website at http://www.sourlands.com.