‘Switch – the Movie’ Screenings Go Global

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Coming soon, possibly to a theater near you …

“Switch,” an award-winning, feature-length documentary film that explores the future of energy on a global-scale, will be shown commercially in at least 10 cities across the United States in September.

Tinker (right) at PS10, the world’s first concentrating solar tower, near Sevilla, Spain, where the sun’s heat makes steam to drive a generator.
Tinker (right) at PS10, the world’s first concentrating solar tower, near Sevilla, Spain, where the sun’s heat makes steam to drive a generator.

In addition to the national exposure, the screenings – intended for the general public – will ensure the film is eligible for this year’s Academy Award consideration in the documentary category.

It also will be featured in campus-wide screenings at 40 universities nationwide, several of which Tinker will attend as a GSA/AGI/AAPG Distinguished Lecturer, to educational groups and at other private settings in both the United States and around the world – including a special screening at the upcoming AAPG International Conference and Exhibition in Singapore.

Throughout September, the film will play in commercial theaters in:

  • New York.
  • Los Angeles.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Boston.
  • Houston.
  • Dallas.
  • Austin, Texas.
  • Oklahoma City.
  • Denver.
  • San Francisco/Oakland.

Internationally, “Switch” will be shown to groups in Calgary, Canada, and Batangas, Philippines during September. In August it was screened at the International Geological Congress in Brisbane, Australia, and in Mexico City, Mexico.

“Switch” was supported by several foundations, including the AAPG Foundation.

It features past AAPG president Scott Tinker in the starring role as the narrator and “guide” for a journey around the world that looks at the global energy transition, including how energy is used, how it is created, how it is used, how much of it is needed and how much more of it can be produced.

Belle Ayr Mine manager Shane Durgin gives Tinker a tour and overview of a coal mine in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Photos courtesy of Switch Energy Project
Belle Ayr Mine manager Shane Durgin gives Tinker a tour and overview of a coal mine in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Photos courtesy of Switch Energy Project

Importantly, it discusses realistic approaches for dealing with what many see as a coming energy crisis around the world – and explores what the challenges will be for all people, as well as some of the solutions.

Or, as Tinker asks in the film:

“What will it really take to go from the energy that built our world to the energy that will shape our future?”

Take One

The origins of “Switch” date back over five years, when Austin, Texas-based documentary film maker Harry Lynch was making a short documentary for NBC (regional) called “Unconventional,” and interviewed Tinker for the film in his role as a professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences and director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin.

“He interviewed me for an hour or so,” Tinker recalled, with Lynch seeking an expert’s perspective for his film, and insight into the energy industry and global energy demands seldom seen by the general public.

“I was impressed with his approach and obvious talent,” Tinker said.

“After the interview was over, he asked me if I had ever written a book,” Tinker said. “I remember laughing and saying that I was too lazy to write a book, and he remembers me saying I was too busy to write a book.

“Regardless, he says to me, ‘Why don’t you make a movie?’

“That was over four years ago January,” Tinker laughed, “so it wasn’t faster than writing a book.”

Tinker is the on-camera “star” of “Switch,” and as director Lynch is the off-camera creative force. The two share writing and producing credits.

“It is a healthy partnership, as we bring different perspectives,” Tinker said of the creative dynamics. “We didn’t pre-write it – it was written as it was filmed, and a lot of the story evolved after the filming was finished.

“The eventual story is very different from the first cut of the film,” Tinker added.

That was at least partially because early audiences convinced Tinker and Lynch that the film needed to be less about “concepts” and more about people.

“We had to balance education with entertainment,” Tinker said. “When we were starting I told Harry, ‘I have all these great graphs and charts,’ and he said, ‘You can’t use any graphs and charts!”

(Tinker somewhat sheepishly points out that they “ended up with a chart or two.”)

“I had to resist the urge to ‘Google’ and learn a whole lot of stuff ahead of time before our site visits,” Tinker said, “’cause I’m a researcher. But sometimes Harry wouldn’t even tell me where we were going. He didn’t want me to come off like I was too knowing.”

Early screenings also produced a common reaction: Audiences wanted to know “more about Scott” – who he is, and why should it matter what “he” says or thinks.

So Tinker’s personal journey through the world of energy, which has been going on now for three decades, became the film’s focus.

An example: Early in the movie Tinker is driven to a power plant inside a mountain in Norway – which elicits genuine amazement from Tinker.

“I didn’t know that it was inside a mountain,” Tinker said, “so when you see my reaction to what we find, that’s real.”

Personal Best

“Switch” has been shown nearly 100 times to various audiences over the past year – including the 2011 AAPG Leadership Conference in Boulder, Colo., and the AAPG annual meeting in Long Beach, Calif. – and early viewers may find the film a bit “different” on a second viewing.

“The comments and criticisms were pretty consistent: It was too long,” Tinker said. “So we took five minutes out after the Colorado Leadership Conference – and the reaction in Long Beach was very positive.”

Tinker and Lynch now anxiously await the reaction from the general public, which may or may not be familiar with the energy industry or exploration dynamics.

“While many other energy films set out with an agenda, then advocate for one energy type or another, ‘Switch’ is different,” Tinker said earlier this year. “We started with a question, then went out to discover the answers, working hard to remain unbiased and open to new ideas.”

“With our preview audiences, we’ve seen that people from left and right, young and old, fossil and renewable, energy companies and environmental groups are all positive on the balanced message and on the conversation it could help start,” Lynch added. “And that’s really our goal – to start a balanced national energy conversation with this film, its extensive video-based companion website, the K-12 education modules and, perhaps in the future, a TV series.”

Tinker said they were determined that, as they traveled around the world looking at energy demands and potential solutions, the film would have objectivity, balance, candor, scale and scope.

“That would give the film the staying power that other advocacy projects don’t have,” Tinker said.

And it would make finding a balanced path to our energy future personal.

“We realized it needs to be about one person’s energy use per year,” Tinker said. “That fit with the theme. People matter. Every person matters.”

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