As Jim Baxter watched a presentation at San Francisco State comparing the landscape of 1800s California with modern-day grounds, he said he could not help but marvel at how dramatically the state had changed. He wanted other Californians to know about the effects of environmental change.
Years later, Baxter, a professor of biological sciences at Sacramento State, was inspired to create and produce the film “Becoming California”, a two-hour documentary that chronicles how humans transformed the state to become the most radically changed region in the U.S.
“My feeling at [the presentation] was that people ought to see this and understand this so that we know what role we play – what our place is in the environment,” Baxter said.
“Becoming California”, which took several years to create, was broadcast Sept. 11 on KQED.
The film is divided into three segments that explores the past, present and future relationship with California’s natural environment; “Assembling California”, which is about the origins of the state; “Reinventing California”, about how culture and technology have accelerated environmental changes; and “Reconciling California”, about how humans and nature can live in harmony.
The title, “Becoming California”, refers to the effort of preserving the natural beauty of the state.
“‘Becoming California’ is about California becoming the place that we know of today,” Baxter said. “It’s the landscapes, the high mountains, the deserts, the coastlines.”
These are sites Baxter remembers as a child when his family would go on camping trips and take him surfing, skiing and fishing.
“I care for it deeply and want to see the beauty of California preserved to the degree that we can be effective stewards of California and also live here in concert with it – as partners, not adversaries,” Baxter said.
The film shows how humans can be “good stewards” of the environment while enjoying a great quality of life.
According to Baxter, the documentary presents an optimistic message of reconciliation between nature and humans, unlike many other environmental films that tend to be more preachy and depressing.
“Sure, we’ve had our hand in messing things up, but there’s a tremendous amount of inspiration and energy and enthusiasm and action that’s happening in California that is so positive,” Baxter said.
“Becoming California” is a part of a series of educational media, which are completed and in the process of being released. Baxter said the project is a collaborative effort that includes producers Kit Tyler, David Scheerer and Jeffrey White.
Academy-Award winning actress Jane Fonda, also joined the team of producers as the narrator of the documentary. Baxter said he wanted to make sure he chose someone who was identified in California and wanted someone with strong story-telling skills.
“She’s [Fonda] really enthusiastic. She’s a terrific person and has a lot of energy,” Baxter said. “She’s got a wonderful voice and she’s just brought an enormous power to the film.”
He said there are several drivers of change that affect the environment, including geologic and climatic ones, but man has the biggest impact. Baxter hopes the film will encourage California citizens to become catalysts of positive change for the environment.
“Because we’re such powerful drivers of change, we have the potential, the capacity, to change California in the ways we want to change it – for the better, in a positive way,” Baxter said.