Taking Root with Lisa Merton on Earth Day

Posted on April 22, 2011

Lisa Merton’s Taking Root was broadcast on Independent Lens in April 2009 and brought together more than 4,000 people to Community Cinema events in 50 cities across the country.


As we ring in Earth Day celebrations across the country, we wanted to highlight some of the extraordinary films that ITVS had the opportunity to take out to communities through broadcast and on-the-ground engagement. On Thursday, we profiled Dirt! The Movie and filmmaker Eugene Rosow. Today we’re featuring Lisa Merton and her documentary Taking Root.

What's been happening with your film since 2009? Since our Independent Lens broadcast and the Community Cinema screenings in 2009, Taking Root has taken on a life of its own. We continually get requests for screenings from around the world. The film has been shown in over 55 film festivals in 22 countries from Lithuania to Amman, Jordan. Just the other day, I did a Q & A Skype session after a screening of Taking Root that was organized by UN Women in Charlotte, NC. I do this quite often and really enjoy it. Audience members have such good questions. We talk about the origins of the film, what Professor Maathai is doing now and the ways that people can apply the Green Belt Movement philosophy in their communities and take action. And there is always someone who becomes so passionate about the film that they ask if they can set up a screening in their community. And so it goes. 

Last summer I had the honor of showing Taking Root in Kenya. It was something that we had hoped to do much earlier on, but despite our intentions it took some time to organize. It was deeply moving to see so many of the people who are in the film and to hear Kenyan reactions. Many who saw it had lived through the Moi years from 1978-2002 but those under 30 often knew very little about that time. I think it was most gratifying to show it to these people, because it really opened their eyes to the struggle that had led to the freedoms they now take for granted. They also saw Wangari Maathai with new eyes – they knew that she had “fought the government” but knew very little about the cost to her both professionally and personally – and from seeing the film, a lot of young people felt empowered to carry on the change in their communities. I visited some of the mothers who had protested at Freedom Corner and all our friends at the Green Belt Movement headquarters who had been so generous with their knowledge and time when we were making the film. 

Over the last couple of years we have gotten many requests to translate the film into other languages. Thanks to film festivals, the film has already been translated and subtitled in French, Spanish, Greek, Polish, Italian, Hebrew, Danish, Dutch and Korean. Due to other requests, we have dubbed the film in Haitian Creole and Kiswahili and we are in the process of dubbing it in French, Spanish, Indonesian, and Portuguese. Our plan is to translate the film into 22 languages and dub it in 13. We are doing this so that the film is available to people at the grassroots, people who may not be able to read. We are very excited about this venture and are deeply grateful that we were able to get the funding to do this. A Nigerian who was at the UN Women screening in Charlotte, NC said it will be so inspiring to all those nations in Africa that are struggling for good governance. 

What are you most proud of in terms of the impact you've seen your film make on an individual (or a group)?  I am most proud that the film shows a more holistic way of achieving change that benefits all beings and the earth that sustains us; that when the environment is degraded if we take into account all the variables that have created that degradation, we will see that the solutions most often lie with equitable distribution of resources, human rights and good governance. 

What will you be doing on earth day this year? At this point there are no local screenings of Taking Root that I can attend.  We will gather some neighbors and start rebuilding the bridge over our brook that washed out due to heavy rains and ice dams. The bridge made it possible for our neighbors and us to access a huge tract of forest where we can cross country ski and snowshoe and do some winter tracking of otters, coyotes, fox and others. 

What do you love most about being a filmmaker? Thee people that I have the opportunity to meet and where those connections lead me. Each film that we have made has begun because of meeting an individual whose story has touched us. Making films is the lens through which I learn the most about the world and myself. I hope that our films inspire people to look at themselves and the world in a new light as well. Learn about how you can get involved on the filmmaker’s website and visit ITVS’ Community Classroom to download educator resources and watch film modules adapted from Taking Root

Last January, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai (featured in the film Taking Root) offered Community Cinema a few words to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of community service.


From our blog

  1. ITVS Welcomes Brandii Rice as Head of Business and Legal Affairs

    August 10, 2023

    ITVS is pleased to welcome Brandii Rice as our new Head of Business and Legal Affairs. In her role Rice will oversee business and legal affairs across the ITVS brand portfolio. In addition, she will guide licensing and business strategies to support ITVS’ content development, production, distribution and audience development goals. She will join ITVS

  2. Carrie Lozano Will Lead ITVS as President & CEO, Succeeding Sally Jo Fifer

    June 7, 2023

    Carrie Lozano joins ITVS from the Sundance Institute, where she served as director of Documentary Film and Artist Programs, supporting boundary-breaking filmmakers across the globe. At ITVS, she will continue to protect independent artists’ voices, editorial control and copyright while elevating nonfiction storytelling as an essential strategy

  3. Lisa Tawil Joins the International Board of INPUT

    June 1, 2023

    Discover how Lisa Tawil's appointment to the International Board of INPUT strengthens worldwide collaboration in public media.