Tracker Pixel for Entry

“Above All Else”: Actress Daryl Hannah chats with HPR about the Keystone

by Chris Hennen | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | March 27th, 2014

John Fiege and Daryl Hannah / photo by Chris Hennen

What makes the average, everyday person become an activist? How does a Texas landowner go from everyday worries to fighting multinational corporations?

These are questions explored in the new documentary “Above All Else,” which debuted at the SXSW Film Festival this month.

The film follows the story of David Daniel who began to battle the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline in east Texas after he found stakes in his land before he even knew about the project.

A former circus performer, Daniel eventually resorted to a treetop blockade to try and stop construction of the project when he felt his voice wasn’t being heard. Actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah (“Kill Bill,” “Blade Runner”) is the executive producer, who herself has been arrested for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.

We had a chance to speak with both Hannah and director John Fiege at SXSW about the film and how they became involved.

Fiege came to the story after he developed cancer and began looking into the causes of why he got the disease.

“About four and a half years ago I got cancer and I started developing a film about the impact of the oil industry on our economy and our culture. The only cause was environmental causes, and I really wanted to do a story about this world we’re living in now that is just saturated with fossil fuels and the chemicals that come from it,” Fiege said to HPR.

“The BP oil spill happened and I started developing a film there, and then my cancer came back and I continued to fight it. And toward the end of that process, I started to hear about the Keystone XL pipeline protests. For me it was a real sea change in our approach towards trying to deal with climate change and how to fight the battle.

“So I really started hunting for stories about people who were engaged in this fight and who they were, why they were engaged in it and how this one pipeline was turning regular citizens, people in the middle of the country, farmers, ranchers, everyday folks into activists, citizens who were really engaged in this process of conversation and debate about these big issues that impact everybody.”

Hannah had already been involved with protesting the Keystone Pipeline when she learned of Fiege’s work on the film and decided to become involved with it.

“I had also participated in standing in solidarity with some of the communities like the Lakota Sioux Rosebud nations, different groups in Nebraska and people who had been fighting the eminent domain abuses on the northern route,” Hannah said to HPR.

“When I heard the southern route was fast tracked and it wasn’t really being reported, I was definitely interested in going down there and somehow giving some voice and support to the communities who were fighting down there.”

Hannah naturally found out about Fiege’s work through her own.

Fiege said Daniels tried traditional methods of protest, speaking with politicians, organizing and rallying with neighbors, even going to Washington D.C. as a part of a tour and becoming a national voice against the Keystone XL pipeline but none of it seemed to work.

“His last option from his perspective was to get set up in a tree and prevent the physical construction from happening. And you know the really fun and interesting part of the story is he is a circus performer ... And he’s a carpenter, so he made all the platforms that he used, and he was able to do all the rigging himself and put everything up in the top of 100 foot trees,” Fiege said.

Hannah said the most outrageous part of Daniel’s story is how his right to speak out was completely scuttled.

“...They’ve trampled on these peoples first amendment rights, their freedom of speech,” Hannah said.

Fiege concurred and added: “It wasn’t my intention from the beginning, but by the end it became very obvious that this is a story about the unbelievable wealth and power of large corporations, particularly within the oil industry. And we see person after person crushed by that power.”

“And so I think one of the important parts of the film, and David says this himself in the movie, he says it’s important we understand what we’re dealing with. And we understand what’s happening. Because I think a lot of folks don’t realize the almost unchallenged power that these companies have to do what they want and that becomes very visceral and very experiential in the process of this story.”

While the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline was fast tracked, the Obama Administration is still considering approval of the northern portion of the project that would run through Montana and Nebraska. Both Fiege and Hannah said, while they would like the pipeline stopped, it isn’t necessarily the goal of the film.

“The film obviously doesn’t have any advocacy or political goals. Our intention is to tell the story of these people who decide to fight. And we tell their story from a very intimate perspective,” Fiege said.

“But our hope is that this film help sparks further conversation and further awareness of the issues. There are several studies that have been put out recently by I think Pew and Stanford University that over the last year the percentage of Americans who approve of the Keystone XL pipeline has been diminishing quickly, and the percentage of Americans who think it should be stopped has increased.”

Hannah said the film shows “the human side” of the pipeline.

“It’s not to say we have to do this or we have to do that. But me personally, I hope the pipeline is stopped, of course. And not because of the pipeline, because of tar sands expansion,” she said.

“It is a conduit to tar sands expansion. If they can’t get that oil out, they have said in so many words, TransCanada and the oil companies invested in tar sands expansion … they will not be able to expand the tar sands, which they have planned to multiply it times five. It’s already the size of the U.K. They have plans to expand it to the size of the state of Florida. And it will not be expanded if we don’t give it that avenue to get to the global market.”

Fiege said his process of choosing subjects, which affect social change is deliberate and that in telling those stories, his hope is to uplift those who are trying to do good versus trying to achieve specific policy changes.

“I think the process in itself is a political act of lifting up the story of somebody who’s trying to make the world a better place. And for me as a filmmaker, that is my main goal. It is to tell that story,” Fiege said.

“And of course I pick stories that I personally care about a lot and they are connected to my own story. But once I find the character and once I find the story, I want it to be about them and about what their process and experience has been and what their goals are. It’s no longer about what my goals are. So once I was in this story, I just wanted to do it justice and to be able to truthfully and honestly and powerfully tell the story of why these people decided to fight and what happened.”

Hannah feels it’s important for people such as herself who could do virtually any film project to use their fame to give back and affect social good.

“I’ve always loved movies. I think they are an incredible tool, not only to inspire our imaginations, but to help us find that compassion and empathy and live through someone else’s experience. And to me there’s no use at all for any kind of notoriety unless you use it to shine a light on people who are doing good work and doing things that are of importance and need a voice. So that’s a way I try to take advantage of that position I’ve been put in.”

There’s no word on whether “Above All Else” will screen in the Fargo area yet, but with so much regional interest in the Keystone, it would seem likely it should.

The good news is SXSW marked the three year anniversary of Fiege’s last cancer surgery, and it is in remission.

Recently in:

FARGO – Nearly half of the Walmart employees claiming discrimination from management at the world’s largest retail chain came before Fargo’s Human Relations Commission Thursday, to appeal for help, and the commission…

One of the most annoying things on the web is advertising that interrupts what you are doing. I’m talking about the pop-up ads, the videos that start playing as soon as your browser opens the page. You get the idea.Well, it seems…

Thursday, February 22, 7pmFront Street Taproom, 614 Main Ave, Fargo The jazz musician and independent songwriter, making music for 20 years and performing for 10. Interesting, arranges in a dynamic and unorthodox fashion. On tour,…


Go ask ALICE

by Sabrina Hornung

I was 14 in 1999 when Columbine happened. I remember feeling the shock, horror, and overall sickness that comes with a national tragedy of that caliber.According to a February 15, 2018 article in The Washington Post by John Woodrow…

When will we learn to share wealth?Last week I wrote about how many predictions made by Aldous Huxley in his 1932 book "Brave New World" were beginning to come true in 2018.When I read the toll to travel on Interstate 66 in…

Although the temperatures were sub zero last Sunday, the crowd and competitors were certainly on fire at the Holiday Inn in Fargo for the 5th Annual Bartenders Battle.This event has become a highlight of the year for the service…

By Melissa Martin, Ph.D. Emotional eating refers to a range of behaviors in which individuals eat for reasons other than physiological hunger; and eating is an attempt to self-soothe emotions.…


​New Direction Fest 7

by Jack Stenerson

The New Direction had no shows booked in January 2012 so one of our co-founders, Charley Wang, decided to put together the First New Direction Fest out of complete necessity. He reached out to 18 local bands to play our little…

Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi, whose 1989 debut "My Twentieth Century" won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, achieved another career highlight recently with an Oscar nomination for her most recent feature. "On Body…

In my tenure at the High Plains Reader, I have devoted a lot of column inches to promoting the local music scene of the Red River Valley. However, I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t also bring your attention to another…

By Nathan Roybardsdream@gmail.comYou are absolutely right. The title is not “To be or not to be” from the famous Shakespeare soliloquy in "Hamlet." I won’t be talking about Shakespeare particularly. I will expound the…

Fargo has its share of people who are passionate about stand-up comedy, even if the success of clubs devoted to it has been mixed. Despite the fact we have seen places like Courtney’s Comedy Club and Level 2 Comedy Club close…

“What are some of your favorite bottles of whiskey?” is a question I get asked quite frequently and is often harder to answer than one might think. One of the great rewards of my profession is getting to sample some of the…

Essential oils. They are all the buzz lately. It seems everyone has heard of them or is purchasing them. Some people know how to use them; others are just interested in the wonder of their complex scents.Essential oils are as…

Live and Learn

​The other shoe

by HPR Contributor

By Elizabeth Nawrotnawrot@mnstate.eduI look up from my hotel lobby breakfast astonished to see a framed print of Wassily Kandinsky's "Mit und Gegen,” a masterpiece of color and composition that just happens to be my favorite…

By Gary Radical: Derived from the Latin radix, which literally means the root or base. In political terms it means penetrating beyond conventional explanations and getting at the root cause of a problem.In…