Empowered Highlights Local Energy Efforts


By Kristie Snyder, 

GreenLeaf Editor

Solar-panelTompkins County is famous for its cloudiness. And it's quickly becoming famous for something else — renewable energy. Despite all those clouds, there's plenty of sun and wind, and more and more Tompkins residents are figuring out how to curb their fossil fuel consumption with a variety of sustainable energy approaches, from the tried-and-true to the purely experimental. A new locally produced documentary film, Empowered: Power from the People, highlights many of these efforts.

"Locally there is a huge trend" toward renewable energy, said Director Shira Golding Evergreen. "Art Weaver told me Renovus [a local renewable energy installer] has had as much work in the past two years as in the previous eight combined."

Those featured in the film live throughout Tompkins County, from Enfield to Caroline and at many points in between, including the City of Ithaca. They include households with pricey grid-tied solar systems, and those with low-budget off-grid efforts that include innovations like iceboxes and vegetable oil-fueled generators. Local solar installers Renovus Energy make an appearance, along with founder Art Weaver's new project, Weaver Wind. Also featured are the forthcoming Black Oak Wind Farm, along with the Ithaca Biodiesel Cooperative. Local social justice media group Green Guerrillas shows off its veggie oil-powered bus, and Town of Caroline council members proudly give a tour of the new town hall, which may not be beautiful, but will one day pay for itself with features including geothermal heat and an impressive photovoltaic array. You're sure to recognize friends and neighbors, or maybe those folks up the street you've been meaning to introduce yourself to — the ones with all those solar panels on their garage. The people profiled come from all walks of life. "We're hoping everyone sees someone in the film that they can relate to," says Evergreen.

solar-empowered-shiraDirected by Evergreen and produced by Suzanne McMannis, both residents of Dryden, the film is local through and through. Evergreen, a Cornell alum who returned to Ithaca after living and working in New York City for several years, runs a graphic design, web and film company, Shirari Industries, with her partner Ari Evergreen. Her prior film, Frac Attak: Dawn of the Watershed, took on hydrofracking (which she was horrified to learn about when she returned to town in 2008) via the zombie horror film genre.

McMannis, a local homesteader and farmer who has lived off-grid with her husband for the past 12 years, was inspired to make Empowered as a positive statement in response to fracking, a way to show "what we're for," Evergreen said. Connected via mutual friends, Evergreen and McMannis teamed up to make the film, in "a very fun and interesting partnership," said Evergreen. The film was shot over the course of a year, and then quickly edited for a debut at the October 2011 Tompkins County Green Buildings Open House Tour. It has gone on to be shown at Cornell, SUNY Cortland, Kendall, and Cinemapolis, as part of the recent Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival. Upcoming screenings as of press time include Corning Community College, Ithaca College, the Rochester Center for Sustainable Living and the Ithaca YMCA. People are invited to organize screenings in their communities, and Evergreen hopes to secure grants to develop discussion guides and teachers' guides.

"We made the film to inspire change," Evergreen said. "It's just another contributor. With any movement for social or environmental justice we need many angles, and the film is another angle."

Learn more about Empowered, order a DVD, and check on upcoming screenings.

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