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Sierra Magazine
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Sierra's July/August 2005 Let's Talk film selection:
The Fire Next Time
A film by Patrice O'Neill
Review by Joan Hamilton

What it's about
Kalispell, Montana, is a little slice of America where differences over logging, economic development, and the role of government have become reasons to hate and harass. In a riveting sequence of The Fire Next Time, a radio talk-show host rails about the "eradication" of environmentalists ("green slime") as he broadcasts their home addresses. In another, green swastikas are doused with gas and publicly burned in protest of "green nazis." An anti-government group called Project 7 is discovered with a stash of guns and a hit list of local officials. Kalispell is so fouled by fear that one mother (above) teaches her tearful teenage daughter to defend herself from threats with a pistol. By patiently exploring both sides, the filmmaker hopes to have a cooling effect. How can the rest of us help put out ideological fires, here and elsewhere in an overheated America?

Where to get it
The Fire Next Time will air on PBS's P.O.V. series on July 12. It is also available for purchase from the Working Group for $150 for the 82-minute feature-length version and $99 for the 53-minute broadcast version, plus tax and handling. You can order it by visiting www.theworkinggroup.org, calling (510) 268-9675, or writing to the Working Group, P.O. Box 70232, Oakland, CA 94612.

About the filmmaker
Patrice O'Neill has produced a series of films on hate crimes in the United States that has been aired on PBS and used to spark public discussion in more than 100 U.S. communities. The first film in the series, Not in Our Town, focused on Billings, Montana. Next came Not in Our Town II, which looked at six other communities, as well as Billings, followed by Not in Our Town Northern California: When Hate Happens Here. O'Neill is the cofounder of the Working Group, an independent media production company, and has produced many other films for PBS, including We Do the Work; Family Fuel: A Coal Strike Story; This Far by Faith; and Leaving Home.

Discussion questions
How typical of the entire United States is the conversation going on in Kalispell? How do the challenges facing urban environmentalists compare to those for activists in rural areas such as Kalispell?

If you lived in Kalispell, what advice would you give to the main characters in the film, including ex-cop Brenda Kitterman, arborist Mike Raiman, mill worker Scott Daumiller, environmentalist Keith Hammer, teacher Randy Hansen, elected officials Pam Kennedy and Gary Hall, and KGEZ-AM radio host John Stokes?

If people in your town defended their right to say hateful things in public on the basis of the First Amendment, how would you respond?

In this film, what role did the media play in spreading intolerance? More generally, how do the media contribute to the polarized political atmosphere across the United States? How can and do the media play a positive role?

From what you saw in the film, do you think Flathead Valley environmentalists contributed to the polarization? Do you think environmentalists contribute nationally? How can and do they play a positive role?

If you were an environmentalist in Kalispell, would you be willing to speak out? If you were an environmentalist's neighbor, would you be willing to stand up for him or her?

Links

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Photo by Robin Loznak; used with permission.

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