Emily Fraser is a San Francisco Bay Area documentary filmmaker committed to finding the poetry in the every day while provoking change around pressing social and environmental issues. Her work has been shown around the country and the globe, with screenings at Doc NYC, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Columbus International Film + Video Festival, LUNAFEST, the International Wildlife Film Festival, and the Pacific Film Archive, among others. Emily works as a freelance filmmaker, shooter, and editor, and is a video production instructor for KMVT 15 Silicon Valley Community Media. In a previous life, she worked as an environmental consultant, focusing on projects in conservation, resource management, and alternative energy. Emily holds a bachelor's degree in environmental policy and art/architecture from the College of William and Mary and an M.F.A in Documentary Film and Video from Stanford University.
TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about population growth?
EF: I studied environmental policy as an undergrad and human population always seemed like the elephant in the room – I kept finding myself thinking, yes, we’re consuming and polluting too much, but wouldn’t both of those things be less of a problem if there weren’t so many of us? When I first learned just how much population has expanded in the past hundred years, I was astonished. In a very small amount of time human civilization has reached a completely unprecedented scale with some huge ramifications for the rest of the world. But population growth is only the starting point for the film - it branches off into a lot of existential questions about what separates us from other species, what our individual versus collective responsibilities are as humans, etc. etc.
TERRA: How did you come about making the connection of ant’s social structure to human social structure?
EF: I’ve always been interested in different animal adaptation strategies, including the ways that other species are similar to or different from humans. I got interested in ants because they have complex social structures but each individual ant sort of does its own thing without following specific orders from the queen - almost like a laissez-faire economy. And it usually works out well for the group as a whole, but sometimes it doesn’t. I was interested in the ways that the survival strategies that make ants (or humans) so successful as a species can occasionally backfire.
TERRA: Do you think we can change our social system to address over population and the issues that follow?
EF: According to some estimates, human population is on track to peak in 2100 and then to decline from there. It will be interesting to see what happens when our current economic model based on unlimited growth and unlimited consumption starts to come up against limits, whether fewer people, fewer resources, or both. We’ll also be experiencing some tumultuous shifts from climate change, so I expect we’ll have no choice but to develop new social, political, and economic systems to cope. Looking at it optimistically, it could be a great opportunity for humanity to make some radically positive changes.
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
EF: I’ve always loved watching films - documentary films especially – but I never really considered it as a career path until a few years after college. I was working in the conservation and renewable energy fields, and it started to become more and more clear to me that I wanted to engage in environmental issues on a more emotional level. Documentary film seemed like a good way to create some of the emotional and cultural shifts that will be needed to help us address environmental issues. It was also a great excuse to indulge my curiosity and be able to parachute into worlds that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?
EF: Filmmaking is rewarding in so many ways – it gives me an excuse to explore pretty much any subject that I might be interested in, it’s an amazing creative outlet, and it’s satisfying to craft order out of what often feels like a nonsensical universe. It’s definitely not the easiest way to make a living, but it sure is fun.
TERRA: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?
EF: My next project is always my favorite! Right now I’m in the early stages of a few different projects, including helping out on a doc about the totoaba, an endangered fish in the Gulf of California that is being sold on the black market at cocaine-level prices. It’s been fascinating getting to learn about this beautiful fish along with all the different human cultures that it intersects with as it travels around the world on the global black market.