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Sierra's July/August 2005 Let's Talk film selection:
The End of Suburbia
A film by Gregory Greene
Review by Sean McCourt

What it's about
With mortgages financed by the GI Bill, they could live wherever they liked, and U.S. companies, particularly the auto industry, encouraged people to move from the cities to new suburban developments that promised comfort, stability, and style. Alas, this prepackaged form of the American dream totally depends on cars and an abundance of oil, which means our current lifestyle can't support itself much longer. Far from bleak, though, this film calls on viewers to take action, offering ideas on how we might wean ourselves from cars, freeways, strip malls, and myriad products that characterize our oil-based economy.

Where to get it
Check the film's Web site to look for public screenings in your area, watch a preview online, or order a DVD or video of the documentary for $28.50. It's also for rent from Netflix.

About the filmmakers
Gregory Greene (director/writer) has worked on social and political documentaries, including Bravo's art series Arts and Minds and MUCH Music's series Musicians in the War Zone. He is working on a sequel to this film, titled Escape From Suburbia.

Barry Silverthorn (producer/editor) began his career as an assistant editor for television programs such as Night Heat, Katts and Dog, and Maniac Mansion. He also edited Barrie Zwicker's The Great Deception: The War on Terror--An Alternative View. Silverthorn is supervising video editor for Canada's Vision TV, a multi-faith television network.

Discussion questions
Are there groups or companies in your area that buck the trend of using long-distance transportation to deliver consumer goods--such as farmers' markets that support local food production and distribution? Do you patronize them?

The film discusses how electric streetcars once connected the early suburbs with the cities. It also shows how most of them were eventually replaced by diesel buses, at the behest of the auto industry. What happened to the streetcars in your city?

The film suggests upgrading our country's railroad system instead of investing fortunes in interstate highways. However, Amtrak is in serious trouble, and the freight-train system is both monetarily and structurally ill-equipped to handle a big boost in business. What are the prospects for rail travel?

Cheap goods produced overseas have flooded U.S. markets, but their environmental cost can be great. Are you willing to pay more for goods that are produced locally? How much more?

According to the filmmakers, the 1950s vision of the suburbs as the "American dream" was only a cartoon version of what had been the promise of opportunity for previous generations. Do your personal goals reflect the ideals and values that came to symbolize postwar America? Is your dream a house in the 'burbs with a big backyard, or cohousing in the city next to public transportation?

Some experts say that world oil production has already peaked and that even if more alternative forms of energy are used, our society's level of energy use can't continue. "Peak oil is going to reverse globalization," predicts author Michael C. Ruppert in the film. "Survival will happen from a local basis, and we're going to see local economies--that's the only way the human race is going to survive." Do you think our circumstances are that dire? What would you be willing to give up, or contribute, to ensure a local economy and lifestyle that are stable, safe, and above all, sustainable?


Read more discussion topics and learn what you and your family can do to lessen your dependence on oil, at the Post Carbon Institute's Web site.

Read more about the idea that oil production has peaked, at Global Public Media and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas.

New Urbanism is a Web site devoted to helping create sustainable communities, with information and directories to get the process going in your neighborhood.

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