Filmmaker Josh Fox attends The Sanders Institute Gatherin

Filmmaker Josh Fox attends The Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington, Vermont in spring 2024.

(Photo: © Dan Esteban 2024 / via the Sanders Institute)

'The Edge of Nature': New Film Connects Crises of Covid, Climate, and Healthcare

A Sanders Institute screening changed how award-winning filmmaker Josh Fox saw his own documentary, which will be paired with musical performances in New York City this month.

Josh Fox's The Edge of Nature is about more than where nature begins or ends. It's a startling documentary that explores long Covid, PTSD, climate, genocide, survival, purpose, and healing during a time when questions of personal, public, and planetary health converged.

After contracting the virus during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the filmmaker known globally for Gasland—the 2010 Emmy Award-winning documentary that galvanized the movement against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for fossil fuels—headed to a one-room cabin in the woods of Pennsylvania, armed with his camera.

Beginning June 14, Fox is set to couple the resulting film with a live musical performance, featuring a 12-person ensemble, for three weeks at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City. He started the month at The Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington, Vermont, previewing a part of the performance solo, with his banjo—signed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Click here to buy tickets for the New York City performance of Josh Fox's The Edge of Nature June 14-30.

The banjo and songs of Pete Seeger—whose influence Fox can trace back to the folk legend visiting his elementary school—are just part of the film's soundtrack. There are also blue jays and coyotes. The rustle of the forest, filled with bears and beavers. The clicks of typewriter keys. Occasional gunshots in the distance. Radio reports about the intertwined public health and economic crises.

"A lot of the film is about these big lessons that we got during that time and that we have decided don't count anymore. We reduced emissions for the very first time in history enough to meet the goals of [the Paris agreement]," Fox said in an interview with Common Dreams.

Scientists have used the term anthropause "to refer specifically to a considerable global slowing of modern human activities," as over a dozen experts wrote in June 2020 in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Fox said: "That was a moment that we all remember. We healed as a planet. The skies got clearer. The water got better. Bird song increased in complexity."

The detail about bird songs stayed with Dr. Jehan "Gigi" El-Bayoumi, a professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine who was in the Burlington audience, which included academics, advocates, and policymakers fighting for a better world, focused on issues including climate, inequality, healthcare, and housing.

After the conference, El-Bayoumi was walking outdoors with her mother and spotted a bird. She shared what she learned from Fox's performance—which she described as "sheer brilliance," adding that "if there's anything that's going to save humanity, it's the arts."

Filmmaker Josh Fox performs at The Sanders Institute GatheringFilmmaker Josh Fox performs at The Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington, Vermont in spring 2024. (Photo: © Will Allen 2024 / via the Sanders Institute)

Another member of the audience was Wendell Potter, a former insurance executive now at the Center for Health and Democracy. Watching the performance, he told Common Dreams, "I just was enthralled."

Fox also spoke with Potter about suffering from long Covid and struggling to get the care he needed, especially with intermittent health insurance coverage. The filmmaker recalled that "Wendell came in and was just absolutely astounded I have no health insurance right now."

Potter, who advocates for major healthcare reforms including Medicare for All, said that "what he shared with me is terrifying, but is something that so many people are facing day in and day out."

While alarmed by Fox's experiences battling for medical care, Potter "was inspired" by his performance and said, "I think he can play a big role in waking people up."

Fox said that performing at the Gathering and speaking with people there, including Potter and El-Bayoumi, woke him up—and inspired him to make some additions to the forthcoming performances.

"Every time I do a performance, I learn," he explained. "And I realized that some of the things that are implicit in the film... meaning I want people and audiences to feel and figure out on their own—at times, I think when we're doing a performance of it, it needs to be explicit."

"Getting to the Sanders Institute was this huge wake-up call. I was like, oh my God, I just made a movie about health."

"I made it from the fossil fuel, climate change angle," Fox said of The Edge of Nature. "Getting to the Sanders Institute was this huge wake-up call. I was like, oh my God, I just made a movie about health."

Since the conference, he has been working on some new lines for the performance. In terms of healthcare lessons from the pandemic, he hopes to highlight that "the vaccines came and made the whole thing a helluva lot less fatal and a lot less scary (for those of us who are educated and believe in science that is). And the vaccines were free for every American!"

"Of course, because we don't have Medicare for All in this country, we still have to pay for cancer, and asthma, and heartbreak of psoriasis, and lupus, and Lyme, and diabetes, and glaucoma, and painful corns, and scabies, and rabies, flu, AIDS, and ME/CFS, every other ailment under the sun from Alzheimer's to ADHD," he now wants to say. "Medical debt once again being America's leading cause of bankruptcy, insolvency, and despair."

He also plans to point out that "hurricane season never used to be a thing in PA. It is now. But this deluge is only the beginning. Our climate system is tipping into uncharted territory. Industrial fossil fuel-based civilization's emissions are trapping us in the planet's fever dream."

"So unless you have a ticket to Jeff Bezos' floating Floridian totalitarian salad spinner in the sky, then you are gonna be stuck down here, in their greenhouse gas chamber. And the billionaire colonizers will keep dreaming of Mars," he will warn. "While down here what's worse than genocide will occur. Omnicide. The murder of all."

Fox plans to have climate experts and advocates in New York City this month for post-performance discussions.

Like Gasland, he also plans to take The Edge of Nature—which has already won the Best Environmental Film Award at the 2023 Byron Bay International Film Festival in Australia—and its musical performance on tour, so audiences beyond NYC can experience it.

"We're going to try to have this piece make an impact," Fox told Common Dreams. "This is obviously an election year. This film was entirely made in Pennsylvania, so we're hoping to take it throughout PA, maybe New Hampshire, Vermont, New York."

"Sometimes that's in a huge arts center," he said. "And sometimes that's somebody's Unitarian church set up and we have 50 people, or it's somebody's backyard or somebody's barn—set up the screen outside on a hillside... Those are some of the most fun. So we don't make a distinction between what is a legit theater and what is somebody's barn... it's all just people."

Reflecting on the Gasland years, Fox noted that "the reason why we succeeded so many places with the anti-fracking campaign... is because we were talking about public health. Fracking was the scary chemicals across your fenceline that was going to harm your children."

With future performances, Fox said, "what I would love to see—and it's such a no-brainer—is the Medicare for All and climate change/Green New Deal movements coming into the same space."

"And by the way, the Green New Deal is a kind of Medicare for All. Getting rid of the fossil fuel industry is a kind of Medicare for All, because you're simply eliminating all of those illnesses that it causes," he said. "It is a great moment to potentially campaign for both... to break out of our silos."

"We get very siloed in the activist world," he added. "I get siloed in climate and fracking and environmental space. Others are siloed in Medicare for All. So this film is a chance for us to try to work across those two lines."

Click here to buy tickets for the New York City performance of Josh Fox's The Edge of Nature June 14-30.

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