As Australia braces for extreme bushfire season, Josh Fox documentary sends out a passionate call for united action on climate change

The World Premiere of The Edge of Nature by Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning filmmaker Josh Fox is the Opening Night Film at the Byron Bay Film Festival next month.

Fox’s film Gasland had a profound effect on the Byron/Northern Rivers Community. The film spread awareness of fracking and helped build the resistance both locally and world-wide.

“As a filmmaker Josh Fox is a change-maker; he is able to convey the importance of each individual in being part of the change, and take that message to the world,” says Festival Director J’aimee Skippon-Volke. “With Australia already in drought and the threat of bushfires at extreme levels, this film is the rallying-cry we need right now.”

Fox will be flying in from New York to present his film, which is a unique and compelling hybrid – at once a record of a deeply personal journey through long Covid, a nature documentary, an examination of intergenerational trauma, and a call to action to choose protection of the environment over the relentless materialism that is consuming the planet.

The Edge of Nature is alternately alarming, sad, funny and humane, and ultimately an uplifting and inspirational celebration of hope and the human spirit.

In 2020 Fox, suffering neurological symptoms and cognitive damage from long covid, isolated himself in a tiny cabin in his beloved Pennsylvania forest, in the hope that simplicity and the forces of nature would heal him.

Accompanied only by his trademark banjo, the songs of Pete Seeger, a family of obstinate beavers and various wild animals, he underwent a dark night of the soul and lessons in inspiration and resilience.

Alongside his awe at the tenaciousness and beauty of nature, his nine-month seclusion brought up the legacy of Nazi genocide that swept away most of his ancestral family – a trauma prompted in part by the far-off sounds of machine-guns being fired at night.

In The Edge of Nature Fox finds a parallel between this preparedness for violence – the destructive threat posed by the surge in white supremacy – and the ecocide being practised by the insatiably greedy and expansionist industrial billionaire and corporate class.

At the same time, one phenomenon arising from the global Covid pandemic gave cause for hope. Known as the Anthropause, it was a time when planes were grounded, cars went undriven and populations were forced to live a simpler, quieter life. The skies and waters cleared, animals found a safe place to be.

For the first time in history, world-wide emissions were reduced enough to halt climate change – the possibility of recovery gave rise to optimism.

The premise of The Edge of Nature is the story of his healing from long Covid, Fox says. “But it’s not just about healing myself. The earth, our forests, the climate and all of our ecosystems are deeply scarred, sick and wounded. We are all traumatised and endangered by the worsening climate crisis. This film puts forth the radical notion that we cannot heal ourselves without healing the planet. And we cannot heal the planet without healing ourselves.

“It has taken me a long time to be brave enough to understand what this film is really about. Until this year I was too scared, confused and traumatised to include my process of healing from long Covid in the film. The disease gave me extremely pronounced and difficult neurological and cognitive symptoms. It has been a long road of recovery.”

But recovery did take place – made possible not only by the examples all around him of the tenaciousness of nature, but also Fox’s humour, empathy, and a determination to stare down the darkness, and endure through it to find light on the other side.
Music plays a big part in the film, both as soundtrack and a solitary one-man concert he stages in the woods; and performance drives the healing process, he says.

The film adds to Fox’s substantial body of work on the subject of climate change and its ramifications for humanity.

He is internationally recognised for instance as a spokesperson and leader on the issue of fracking and climate change, with his work seen by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Fox’s Gaslands Parts I and II helped to inspire the resistance to fracking in this region which peaked at Bentley in the NSW Northern Rivers, where people power saw the frackers in retreat.

Gasland premiered at the 2010 Sundance film festival and was awarded the 2010 Special Jury Prize for Documentary; it went on to receive an Oscar nomination in 2011 and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction. Fox has four other Emmy nominations and a slew of other prizes to his credit.

Gasland Part II premiered on HBO in 2013, and won the 2013 Environmental Media Association award for Best Documentary among other prizes.

Over the past seven years he has produced several films on subjects including misinformation and propaganda in the media and political ecosystem and how humanity can face climate change.

In 2017 Fox produced, co-directed and co-wrote Awake, A Dream From Standing Rock with indigenous filmmakers Doug Good Feather and Myron Dewey, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

They came together again for The Edge of Nature, the result of their intense six-year study of the question of recovery from intergenerational trauma – “an alliance born of healing our mutual genocidal history – theirs as survivors of the American Genocide, and myself as a son of survivors of the Nazi holocaust”, Fox says. “This film is also dedicated to Myron, who was brutally taken from us last year under suspicious circumstances.”

The Edge of Nature is a worthy gift to Myron, and to all of us – a triumphant artistic response to the often fearful events taking place on a rapidly changing planet.

The 17th Byron Bay International Film Festival runs from October 20-29, with screenings at Byron Palace Cinemas and other North Coast venues.