Arts and Entertainment

The quest for alternative energy — on film

The filmmaker and biodiesel enthusiast — Josh Tickell. - Courtesy Photo/
The filmmaker and biodiesel enthusiast — Josh Tickell.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo/

New local film series — Matinees that Matter — kicks off this weekend with a documentary that’s taking the nation by the gas tank.

While going green is all the rage these days, activist/filmmaker/author Josh Tickell has been green for the better part of his life. He’s spent much of his near-three decades on the quest to find an energy source alternative to fossil fuels.

He gathered fame as that “Veggie Van Guy,” a zany character driving a brightly colored bio-diesel Winnebago across the country, collecting used fry grease from fast-food restaurants, turning it into fuel, and raising interest in alternative energy wherever he went. He’s studied the topic extensively. He’s also written two books on the matter, the latter of which became the basis for his new movie “Fuel” which won a fan base at the 2008 Sundance Festival and will soon be sweeping the nation.

We talked with Tickell Monday night after he’d finished up on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and asked the activist and author how and why he’d made his way to filmmaking.

“For me, it’s the only way to reach the amount of people who I want to reach with this message,” he said, “which is everybody.”

It’s a message of hope and a message for our future, he said, but more importantly its a message of solutions. Rather than succumbing to becoming just another whining doomsday film, Tickell and crew bring some real tactile solutions to the table through this documentary.

Which makes it well fit for the Matinees that Matter series, being co-sponsored by the Lynwood Theatre and Sustainable Bainbridge, kicking off this weekend with 4:30 p.m. showings of Fuel each day.

Two of the county’s biggest socially concious movie buffs, Lynwood manager TJ Faddis and Sustainable Bainbridge’s Neva Welton, former programmer for the island’s Contientious Projector Film Festival are joining forces on the project. The whole aim of the monthly film series looks to be based on solutions.

“What makes Neva’s input so valuable is that she doesn’t just give you a documentary and then send you out into the streets to gnash your teeth,” Faddis said. “She always brings resources to the table.”

“Film is so powerful,” Welton said. “And it’s going to be powerful no matter which way you present it.”

So, in picking which documentaries to show, you can either present all the doom and leave the audience depressed or you can present both the problem and possible solutions and ideally leave them with a sense of hope.

The latter is something that critics are raving about in regards to “Fuel.”

It got more than 10 standing ovations when it premiered at Sundance last year, and it ranked in the top-50 at the box office this weekend in L.A.

“One of the most hopeful films of the year,” one critic said.

It’s a film that has the power to change the way people think about their lives.

“The story is informational, as well as it is emotional and personal,” Tickell noted.

Tickell’s work in the arena of sustainability and really the groundwork for this documentary all started when he was just a boy. Around age 9, he and his mother and his brother moved from the rural natural freedom of Australia to the dense oil corridor of New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is the largest oil producing area in the country, Tickell relates in the film, but it’s also home to the largest number of cancer incidents.

Tickell said he noticed all the people getting sick, including his mother. Longing for a big family, Tickell’s mother endured nine miscarriages, ultimately ending up with two boys on her quest to build a family.

That set Tickell on a mission to find an alternative energy source, change the world and help America kick it’s oil addiction.

He spent a large part of the 90s driving around the country in his veggie van, trying to raise discussion and interest in the topic, while an oil-hungry administration was giving tax breaks for gas-guzzlers and pursuing foreign wars in the most oil-rich region in the world.

I asked him how he keeps going in the face of such an overwhelming nemesis.

“Literally taking it one day at a time,” Tickell said. “All of the goods and all of the bads even out at the end of the day.”

And with the movie set to hit theaters across the nation over the course of the next year, the positives are becoming more and more apparent on the ground level — in people’s lives and within their communities.

“I tend to stay in the periphery of policy and more directly connected to the issues regarding what can communities do,” Tickell said. “That’s the area where I think sustainability has the most potential to move forward as a movement, within each individual community.”

Matinees that Matter, a new film series, co-sponsored by Sustainable Bainbridge and the Lynwood Theatre, kicks off with a showing of the alternative energy documentary “Fuel” at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 21 and 22, 4569 Lynwood Center Road on Bainbridge. The film will be followed by a Q&A session, resources and opportunities to take action. Info:,


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