For 40 years, billy barr has lived alone in small cabin in one of the coldest places in the United States – the ghost town of Gothic, CO. With no goals of proving anything, or even knowledge that the climate was changing, billy started collecting data about snowpack to pass the time in his isolated part of the world. When climate researchers at the Gothic-based Rocky Mountain Biological Lab discovered billy’s decades of detailed records, they uncovered clear and compelling evidence of climate change.
5 questions with The Snow Guardian director, Morgan Heim at the half-way mark.
Saturday, January 14th, 2017
1Hi Kori! Thanks for being a part of our 2017 Winter Film Festival. First, what was the initial inspiration that made you want to make The Snow Guardian? This film is a chapter from a longer film about changing snowpack in the West called The End of Snow. I live in Gunnison, Colorado, not far from Gothic. It's known as the coldest place in North America outside of the Arctic, and like a lot of Colorado, snow is huge part of our life. It's like a character, or a neighbor, this companion that shapes your sense of place. And when you live so intimately with something, you really notice when that thing, in this case snow, begins to change. You're sensitive to all of the ways it could affect your life, and you don't always know how to feel about that or what to do. So that was the inspiration for the issue.
Spend two seconds with billy and you can understand why he'd be an inspiration. He is one of a kind, and has done something truly remarkable with his 40 years of living and recording this extreme environment. That's not something most people would do. And the fact that he just did it to do it, and it turned into this valuable collection makes it that much more compelling. He wasn't a man on a mission. He was just a person who took an interest in the world around him to an extraordinary degree.
2billy barr, the main subject of your documentary, has lived alone in a secluded cabin for 40 years. How did you end up finding or hearing about this guy? billy is a little bit of a local legend. When I was talking to a friend about The End of Snow, she mentioned I should look up billy barr. Then I read an article that quoted him, and my colleague Neil Losin at Day's Edge had also gotten to know billy while doing a summer program at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, which is located in Gothic and is where billy works as an accountant. Everyone who knew him or of him was like, "Oh yeah. billy is amazing." It was a no brainer. When billy agreed to let me come up and visit with him, the rest was history.
3This doc makes yet another compelling argument the climate change is happening and that we need to do something about it. What are your thoughts about having a President who doesn't believe in climate change? I think it's disappointing to still have to have this argument at all. It's certainly only going to distract from making progress. It's going to be more important than ever to work on the underlying causes for climate change and find ways to frame those issues differently, so we spend less time arguing and more time getting sh*t done. No matter what you think of climate change and what's causing it, most of us would want safe water to drink and clean air to breathe and would think pollution is bad. And if you work to address a lot of those issues, you are going to invariably also address climate change.
I think a lot of this is going to have to happen without the help of our new President, or at least the momentum for it will have to come from outside. Sadly, with the incoming administration, it looks like it's going to be a popularity game. In the meantime dealing with climate change is going to be a combination of personal, local and state efforts. An encouraging note from this story and many others I heard while working on the larger film, is that I know there are a lot of people working tirelessly on this at all of those levels, and they are capable of great things.
4Some people romanticize the idea of living alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere but after having seen how billy barr lives in person, what are your thoughts on this lifestyle? Oh man, I don't know how he does it. I think billy sometimes also doesn't know how he does it. He confessed he looks forward to the spring because he feels that cabin fever after a while. I wonder if that's part of why he loves movies so much. It gives him that connection back the rest of the world. Even when he leaves though, he can never spend much time away. He is drawn back to this place, and it's certainly a jaw-droppingly beautiful and peaceful spot in the mountains.
I don't think I could do it. Maybe for a month or two a year I could. And even though it seems like this great escape from the world, it looked like a lot of work. You can't slack on your chores. You have to be really self sufficient, and just think about it. Every couple of weeks you have to ski 4-miles out then catch a bus into town, buy your groceries, take a bus back, and then pull a sled loaded with all of your stuff 4-miles back out to the house. Having done that with film gear, and I'm just in my 30s and reasonably fit, it was exhausting. I don't know how he does it! Wait. Didn't I say that already?
5What's next? So many things! We're going to continue distributing this film and holding screenings of its big sister The End of Snow, really trying to gain a fanbase for billy and inspiring people to find their own way to accept and do something about climate change. You can learn more at endofsnow.com.
Film wise, I'm working on a piece about an critter called the fisher, a really cute mink-like animal whose Pacific populations were just denied endangered species listing despite everyone's, and I mean everyone's, expectations. I'm also very interested in the predator control experiment that Colorado just decided to implement. That story is happening practically in my backyard, and is a controversial plan to kill bear and mountain lion in a bid to help struggling mule deer populations. We'll see what comes. Bottom line is that whatever does happen will be hard, and it will be fun! The best things are.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
The film with the most fans wins $1,000
For 2017 we are moving on from screening feature films and will be showcasing shorts.
For our Winter 2017 Festival, we are giving away $2,000 in prizes to the top three films.
The film with the most fans.
The film with the most views.
Our favorite film.
Share this film
Please share The Snow Guardian with your friends and help this filmmaker win!