STANDING GROUND: Interview w/ Director Raviv Ullman

STANDING GROUND: Interview w/ Director Raviv Ullman

At this point, you’ve probably heard about the current situation in Bismark, North Dakota, regarding the peaceful-protesting of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Dakota Access Pipeline that is being installed by Energy Transfer Partners. Or maybe you’ve seen your friends on Facebook checking into that area. On a media and pop-culture level, the 3 billion dollar project has gained significant controversy based on the pipeline infiltrating on sacred Native American land, with a major movement of Native Americans, journalists  celebrities, and other citizens uniting at Standing Rock in hopes that they will shut the project down, or at least move it elsewhere. In return, the protesters have experienced the worse of police brutality, along with some people, such as journalists who are covering the protest, facing life sentences in prison (some have been reported excused with insane charges like attempting theft). Regardless of whose land is whose, I personally feel the installation of this pipeline is just another thing that will screw the well being of this planet and especially our country. A potential oil spill for instance…tainting the very water that we need and depend on.

The same seems to be felt by Israel-born actor, journalist, and new-coming director Raviv Ullman, who is embarking on the complicated quest to make his debut documentary, Standing Ground, which he hopes will bring more awareness to the ramifications of the pipeline’s installment. Despite the aggressiveness that the police have shown towards the protesters, and ghastly results of what has happened to journalist covering the protest, Raviv is completely diving in with getting his project made, in hopes of bringing more exposure to something even the “presidential candidates” don’t have the balls to discuss. I spoke with Raviv yesterday about his efforts and the current state of this widely divisive situation.

"Standing Ground" film-maker Raviv Ullman and his crew.

“Standing Ground” film-maker Raviv Ullman and his crew.

A.G. – So I just saw the devastating photo this morning of Native-protesters getting maced by mounds of police officers as they are crossing a river, and the feelings I now have make this interview and the making of your doc seem even more vital. You being a television actor from Eilat, Israel, how was it that you got involved with what is going on in Standing Rock?

R.U. – So more-than-likely, the feeling that you’re feeling right now is exactly what set me off to do this project, because I’ve been following this story for a while, and had been involved with these kinds of things before. But I just didn’t know what to do with this one, so I go to North Dakota myself, the facts being that I don’t know how to stop a pipeline, and I don’t know how to change policies. So I felt really helpless, and I just felt like I had to get out there. So my girlfriend said – why don’t you take a camera? And that kind of set the ball rolling, because I realized that as a filmmaker, our job is to tell stories, and if we can, it would be incredible to have those stories make a difference. So I used this as an opportunity to educate not only other people, but also myself, because like I said, I don’t know how these policies are made, or the means to stop a pipeline even. We just saw what happened in Alabama a few days ago, the explosion at the Colonial Pipeline.

A plume of smoke rises from the site of an explosion on the Colonial Pipeline on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Helena, Ala. Colonial Pipeline said in a statement that it has shut down its main pipeline in Alabama after the explosion in a rural part of the state outside Birmingham. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

A plume of smoke rises from the site of an explosion on the Colonial Pipeline on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Helena, Ala. Colonial Pipeline said in a statement that it has shut down its main pipeline in Alabama after the explosion in a rural part of the state outside Birmingham. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

A.G. – Right, I believe one man died and several others were injured.

R.U. – Exactly. So that exact same pipeline had a break back on September 9th, and it was like 250,000 barrels of oil, or something like that, was leaked. And then Alabama declared State of Emergency, and it wasn’t because of the environmental fears, but that they were afraid they would not have enough petroleum at their gas stations. So what that says to me, is that we’re not ready to shut off our oil supply, even though we would like to think that, but there’s a lot more work to still be done. Before the pipelines are stopped, in North Dakota, it’s a very contentious situation, because of the Native Americans on the land. That pipeline does not need to be going through the land that it’s currently being built through, but there are other pipelines that can transfer that oil. But for me, it starts to beg the question, how do we really start moving forward and progress, because we’ve been told for years and years why we need fossil fuels, but how did we get to this point, and how do we actually get there. Because a lot of people are marching outside the White House, and saying that Obama just needs to swipe the pen and stop it. But that’s not how it works, it would be great if it was all just Obama swiping a pen to stop it, but there’s a lot more work at a state and local level that needs to be done. So part of my goal is to see what can actually be done, but we are definitely starting with North Dakota, because it’s growing still all of the time. 

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A protest camp at Standing Rock.

A.G. – And obviously you’re finding out more about the country and the people that are from here, by doing coverage on something such as this.

R.U. – Absolutely, absolutely. The greatest way to learn more about your country is to go out and meet the people, and I think that is one of the barricades that we are dealing with when it comes to the fossil fuel industry. Let’s take Alabama again, The Wall Street Journal headline post was “Gas Prices Rise After Explosion”. But I just talked to somebody this morning who was evacuated from their home because wildfires were started, and people had to leave and find other places to stay, and the local river is now totally messed up. There’s a big lack of concern at the heart of these issues, and the Dakota Access Pipeline is a 3.7 billion dollar project, so of course the headline there is the money that’s at stake. But there are a lot of people, like 17 million people, who will be effected if there’s a break through the Missouri River. They use that river for their water supply, and we don’t seem to be paying attention to that. Luckily, people are starting to pay attention, but the question now is, what do you do with all of these activated people? It’s so cool to see people checking in on Facebook and that whole thing, which is great, because it brought more attention to it. But with social movements, there are so many pieces to it. Have you seen the documentary How to Survive a Plague?

A.G. – No, I haven’t actually.

R.U. – You should watch it, it’s about the Act-Up Movement during the AIDS Crisis in 1980’s New York. But the same thing is with Occupy, people were angry at the Occupy movement for not knowing what they wanted, and just being noisy and obnoxious. That’s actually a huge part of getting attention from somebody. I just read an article on CNN about the locals in North Dakota who aren’t for The Standing Rock movement, because it’s been annoying for them. Well, that’s exactly what protest are for, to annoy people and to cause a ruckus to get people’s attention, and start a dialogue. The first thing is to start a lot of noise, the second thing is to start a dialogue. And that’s where I think our project will come in. If we make our budget on Kickstarter, we can go where we need to. In Texas, the same company, Energy Transfer Partners is stealing land away from ranchers, and from an eminent domain, and it’s the same issue, just with different people. So we’re trying to show that this isn’t a Native American issue, but this is something that influences all of us. When you go to Standing Rock, the Native Americans say that they are standing up for all of us. They are there because their grandparent’s graves are being dug up. For me, it was definitely enough to go there and scream. But that’s not what they’re doing, they’re going and praying, everyday, for the entire world, and for our country. So if we don’t join them, if we don’t lend our voices, then it won’t work, no matter what we do. So I think that’s always the first step, if you believe in a movement, join, and then you can figure out how to make a change and get together to start a dialogue.

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A.G. – Why do you think the police have displayed such brutality towards the protesters? Is it more of a matter of color, or perhaps they are just being paid of by the companies involved? What do you personally feel it is exactly?

R.U. – Well you can definitely play the “follow the money game” and find that officials are being paid off all over the place. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Leonardo Dicaprio’s new movie, but you look at congress, and certain congress are being paid off by the Big Oil companies and the Koch Brothers. So you start to play the find the money game, there’s a wonderful research team out of the University of Michigan, and they were like let’s find out where this money’s going, like the president of Energy Transfer Partners, let’s find out who he’s paid off. And then you find out exactly what you expect about them. That congressman and congresswomen are being paid off, and then allow legislators to allow these companies to take whatever land that they want. In Texas, again, companies there are given eminent domain, which means that they just have to prove that they’re pipelines are for the good of the American people, and if they say so, then that’s good enough, they can do whatever they want. But taking people where? Not only are you taking people’s land, but if the pipeline breaks, or when it breaks because they do all of the time, they destroy our Earth, and they destroy our crops, and pretty much everything it seems. So the police brutality, it’s definitely a racial issue. These past couple of years, you see that there is definite racial-issues between our police force and the militarization of our police force towards people of color. With the Native American people and their indigenous population, it’s their natural resource that’s being taken away from them.

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A.G. – How does other divisive situations, such as the upcoming presidential election, influence other situations like Standing Rock overall?

R.U. – Well I think that’s a great question, and unfortunately a scary one, because there has been three debates in the current presidential election, and not one brought up a question of climate change. Not one. So that is very worrisome to me. But I don’t know how it plays in, because it seems like to me, it’s not going to play in. Nobody’s even going to look into it. So it’s up to us. It’s up to me to go out, and make a movie, and talk about it. It’s up to you, to write the articles, to engage people. That’s our job. And that’s fine. I will be voting for Hillary Clinton, but once she’s in there’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of different directions to push her. And she’s going to have to be held accountable like everyone else. She’s a much better candidate than Trump, in terms of climate. But she’s not talking about it, she really hasn’t said anything about this movement yet. She released very simple things, like how both sides needed to work together to resolve the issue, so that doesn’t mean anything. So that question, exactly what you said, is exactly the reason why I think this film needs to be made. Because it comes down to us, to change.

A.G. – Exactly, and we can’t be seeing things in black and white all of the time. I think that’s what interesting about you and the Natives approach has been at Standing Rock, you’re seeing the multiple different angles of what can happen if this pipeline gets put in, rather than – oh they’re trespassing, or Energy Transfer Partners is taking their land.

R.U. – Yeah, I mean I’ve been there, and you’re on the plains of North Dakota, it’s not like all of a sudden you’re in someone’s house. It was their land, before we stole it from them, and their grandparents are buried there. One of the greatest things that I’ve heard, is well how would you feel if somebody started digging up your grandparent’s graves? But it’s so much bigger than that, and it’s tricky, because there’s so much more at stake than just this one pipeline. What the movement has successfully done is brought a lot of light to it, which can assure that the conversation continues.

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To learn more and to donate to Raviv’s film “Standing Ground”, please go to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/345639715/standing-ground-a-documentary-film

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