‘Losing the West’ director screens film at CMC in Breckenridge | SummitDaily.com

‘Losing the West’ director screens film at CMC in Breckenridge

Krista Driscoll
kdriscoll@summitdaily.com

Land is one of the most finite resources available to humanity, and what we do with that land, how we choose to handle this most precious of natural resources, is the focal point of "Losing the West," a film that will screen at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge on Friday, April 3, as part of the CMC Speaks series.

Written, directed and co-produced by Alex Warren, a native of Colorado, "Losing the West" is a documentary about the protection of open space and agricultural lands, illustrated by the story of Colorado cowboy Howard Linscott, a gruff, chain-smoking 70-year-old who's been ranching all his life.

We chatted with Warren to learn more about the film and its protagonist.

1. SUMMIT DAILY: Tell me a bit about the film and how it came to be. How were you introduced to Howard Linscott, and how did he become the subject of the film?

ALEX WARREN: We have a family ranch in southwestern Colorado, between Ouray and Ridgway, and I was born in Denver, so I have spent a lot of time in Colorado. And as I was spending time at the ranch, a lot of our working, farming and ranching neighbors who have independent ranches, the issues that faced them, such as the rising cost of land and small profit margins and competition with larger operations, were sort of issues that I was in an immediate relationship with because they were my friends and neighbors.

I had a background in film, so I decided to start interviewing people. I brought a camera, I got a crew to do some beautiful shots of the area, and the story began to kind of take shape. But what I realized was a story about preserving open space, agricultural land, as an economic prospect and way of life, wasn't going to be particularly interesting without a protagonist.

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Destiny brought Howard Linscott walking onto to my ranch one day. … He's a really charismatic, almost 19th century person, and he lives the way that people did who kind of founded a lot of the good aspects of what we consider Westward expansion, that sort of do-it-yourself nature, hard work and all of those things. But of course, it's very different from what one might understand as the way farming and ranching takes place today because he worked on small, independent ranches.

I sort of fell right down into this middle land where the issues kind of went right or left. They were about, how do you preserve this way of life, this industry, in a sustainable way, and how do you preserve the landscape? And Howard's story felt to me like a really interesting way to show the issues that people are already talking about but may not see how specifically relevant they are to each and every one of us.

2. SD: Why did you want to tell Linscott's story, and how does telling the story through the eyes of a cowboy make it more personal?

AW: I think that a lot of people will see this story and say, I know somebody like that, whether they are in an urban setting or a rural setting — my grandpa was like that, my grandpa told me stories like that. There's a nostalgia that will immediately kick in. These abstract ides that we are all concerned with — and we may all try to work together with our elected officials and nonprofit organizations to try and fix — never are as poignant as when they become personal, when they actually affect the individual who is experiencing them.

Everybody can look at Howard's story and say, there's something in this story that I really relate to, and it doesn't matter whether they have anything to do with farming and ranching. There's something about what happens to him through this story that everybody will understand. Even if you're 25 years old, there's some part of the world that has changed drastically in the past 8 to 10 years and you can look back on being 10 years old and it was very, very different.

And that is what Howard's story really shines a light on: how much change has happened to our landscape, our open spaces, our farms and ranches and our suburbs and our cities. And this is a kind of thing that is hard when you're in it to see the forest for the trees. So I think that is a way it can help anybody to relate to these issues of sustainability.

3. SD: The film was shot primarily in Colorado. Why do you think this topic is important to those of us who live and work here, and what makes it timely?

AW: I think it's extremely timely because they're not making any more dirt. This is the only planet we've got that's habitable, and that seems to be something that's resonating finally.

When you're in the middle of your own story, it's hard to see that … the ranches that were up and down your commute from your workplace to your home have been converted to housing developments, apartment housing complexes, strip malls — all things that we agree that we need but maybe didn't go about placing the resources, the financial resources and the planning resources, in the best possible way. And it's time to really look at it in a conversation that involves everybody because this is not an antidevelopment film.

4. SD: Why do you think it's important to protect open space and agricultural lands? How does the film promote that?

AW: I think it's important because nobody is a better steward of their own livelihood than the person that is directly engaged in their own livelihood, and if our farms and ranches are independently run, then nobody will be more accountable to themselves about the way they raise their products — farm animals or crops — nobody will be more invested in doing this in a sustainable way than someone who is in a direct relationship with it.

That's why the focus on independent farming and ranching is so important. And that translates to a broader question of there's nothing more important than our own taking of responsibility of our natural resources are finite, and everything we do uses natural resources. … It's imperative that we take it to the level of individual, personal responsibility. This story shines a light on how much these issues affect individuals. And it affects Howard. As you watch the film, you see what happens to him over 40 years.

5. SD: What are you hoping people take away from the film? Is there a call to action?

AW: I hope that the film empowers everybody who sees it to feel as though they individually can take these issues into their own hands and make a difference, by either the immediate issues that are presented in the film, or ancillary ways, such as finding out what companies have amazing sustainability protocols and voting with their wallets. If they're not able to start a small garden in their back yard, participate in an urban garden or get involved in a local startup that is entirely sustainable — if they're not able to do all those things, which are some of the things we propose in the film — then doing research and being empowered to see that we're such an inventive and incredible country and species that we can turn this thing around.

We're running out of natural resources, and land is the most basic one — fertile land, habitable land, land that has water on it. … Everybody can do something.

If you go

What: CMC Speaker Series presents “Losing the West” (88 minutes) film screening with filmmaker Alex Warren

When: 7-9 p.m. Friday, April 3

Where: Eileen and Paul Finkel Auditorium, Colorado Mountain College, 107 Denison Placer Road, Breckenridge

Cost: Free and open to the public

More information: Visit http://www.cmcspeaks.com