Onscreen, you may not recognize Mark Petersen. With golden locks cascading over a teal dress, fake nails covering his fingertips, and an over-fluffed pink boa wrapped in his arms, it’s easy to understand why.
He’s usually not one to sashay around in his high plastic heels. Petersen typically spends his time directing movies and making bold declarations about water conservation. Outside a coffee shop in Louisville, he revealed this glitter-free façade. Turns out the director/lawn-irrigator has a self-described cynicism about the very business he owns, which includes an idea to “tear our your lawn.”
Ironic? Sure. Crazy? Don’t think so.
Years in the sprinkler-repair and installation business have led outdoor-loving Petersen to a conclusion that could ruin his business: maintaining that turf and landscapes are a major threat to water and energy conservation. While this issue is only one blade in the ever-growing lawn of environmental conservation, it is an important one and one Petersen has waxed neurotic about in his unique brand of eco-cinema. Turf is the largest crop in America, and if Petersen had his way, the pesky household chore known as lawn mowing would be nothing more than a forgotten pastime.
While this idea would not only make him a hero among teenagers everywhere, it has logic behind it. With his first-hand knowledge of the energy and water it takes to keep our lawns and landscapes green and thriving, the local filmmaker has a point: It is hard to justify maintaining this pretty problem.
“It’s not just water,” he said. “It’s the enormous amount of energy that we pour into this little postage stamp (or big postage stamp).”
It’s easy to see—from his unique films to his website—this Boulderite hopes to spread the message faster than relationship updates on Facebook. “What are (we) doing?” he asks, and not just hypothetically.
This is where a seemingly crushed childhood dream comes in to play. Literally. After being voted “most likely to be a filmmaker” in high school, Mark Petersen’s dreams fell away as he grew older. However, these sparks were rekindled by a last-minute acting performance five years ago, eventually leading to the first of three water-conservation films.
With what Petersen explains as his “relief,” his latest film More or Less won the Green Industry Award from Rain Bird’s Intelligent Use of Water Film Competition. This film, which includes a hunchbacked irrigator sporting flippers and scuba gear, a somewhat hairy drag queen, and a homeowner best described as “piggish,” was created from his frustration of the lifestyles of many Americans today.
“The beginning of More or Less,” he explains, “is basically modeled after people I have met. This is how they live and this is how they think. They literally own their own parks and water them seven days a week.”
There is motivation behind the futuristic, glitzy costumes. Petersen wanted the wise words spoken by the boa-wrapped drag queen to be received: “It may be your lawn, but it’s everybody’s water.” Using quirky characters and bizarre scenes allow Petersen to share “the essence of the film” without seeming “teachy.”
But Petersen is far from finished with his creation. He has already shown it in a school and hopes to earn the approval of many more youngsters. His first viewing with this age group (his wife’s children) went better than he expected, keeping their wandering minds focused and earning an “OK” rating (a prestigious accomplishment for the “know-all” age). More or Less is also being shown in the Bug Theater in August, and he hopes to have it shown in the Denver Arts and Humanities center for a (slightly) older audience.
Aside from his ability to pull off fake eyelashes, what else makes this lawn irrigator/ environmentalist different from others?
It could be his boldness. Petersen often puts his job at stake, persuading his clients to remove their thirsty turf. He admits he was nervous to say anything at first, but came to a realization. To make a difference, he says, it is going to take people who are willing to say “You know what? Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this anymore.”
So how can us home-owning, lawn-loving Americans can do our part in water conservation? Petersen had some interesting advice. Should we choose to keep our neatly trimmed patches, the most important thing people can do is make sure sprinkler heads are set “correctly”. Or for those green to irrigating terms, “level in the ground.”
“This is the No. 1 thing that’s missing all across the board, and if I made a film showing [how to set sprinkler heads], it would start to change some things” Petersen explained. For those interested, the finished movie will be shown for free on his website, waterketch.com. Trickling down from this is his idea to tighten regulations in Colorado through enforced codes, similar to those in the electricity/plumbing world.
Peterson recognizes that these changes are a process, and require a new train of thought. Hinting at his artistic side (or maybe budding poetry skills), Petersen described life as a story, in which we are the writers in need of sharper editing skills.
“My attitude is its time for a new story, because this story isn’t going to work,” he said. “No one saw the end of the story and we are really starting to see the ramifications of it.” The stories in Petersen’s films, while they were his inspiration, wouldn’t have been complete without his wife Eeris Kallil’s assistance in storytelling and editing, as well as the help of everyone involved in the film.
“It was a collaborative process.” He claims. “The story for the environment needs to be the same.”
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