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even growing up in Colorado we never made it as far north as Montana,” she says. “But I found a master’s program in Montana. I have an uncle and grandfather in Germany who are documentary filmmakers. I always admired the work they did but thought I was a scientist and not a creative. When I saw this program it was the perfect blend of what wanted to do. I was so driven toward stories and human faces around those stories, and the program felt like a perfect blend. I came to Bozeman and got into the grad program here. That was my entry into the film work.” The program was at Montana State University, an MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking. It’s geared specifically toward training students with formal education and experience in science, engineering or technology to become professional filmmakers. Phil Savoie was one of Cooper’s professors in the program. Savoie is a lifelong environmental filmmaker, journalist and educator who currently lives in Wales. “When we take in students [into the Science and Natural History Filmmaking program], it’s just the top 1 percent of students who would apply,” Savoie says. “Christi was a really good example. She’s motivated, clever, keen, with a creative side she was just starting to explore. She’s carried on with that well.” Savoie and Cooper have remained in contact over the last 10 years, their daughters becoming friends in the process. “Because of Christi’s background with neuroscience, that did make her rather unique,” Savoie says. “She was the first student that I’d taught with a neuroscience background. She’s hungry, she’s learned, she has the curiosity. A lot of people who are in science and people who are of that disposition, they have insatiable curiosity. It keeps them young and keeps them sharp.” • • • • When Cooper entered the program at MSU, she thought she’d be doing “super science-focused documentaries about how the brain works.” But life had different 26

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plans for her. During her second year in film school, Cooper got an internship with WITNESS in Brooklyn, New York, an international nonprofit that trains and supports people using video to promote stories about human rights. “I came on board this project working with youth, at the infancy of this whole ... youth movement around climate litigation,” Cooper says. That’s where she met Kelsey Juliana, the led plaintiff in Juliana vs. United States, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. Cooper co-produced a series of 10 films with Juliana at WITNESS about her own litigation, as well as the lawsuits of the other young folks around the country suing their state governments in the name of environmental justice. “That was my entry into climate justice world,” Cooper says. When the BP oil spill happened in 2010, Cooper packed up her film gear and drove to Louisiana with hopes of connecting with other scientists there. She and a few scientist friends hoped to offer their expertise in media to help get the word out about the seriousness of the spill. What happened was as edifying for Cooper as any work she’d ever dreamed of producing about the oil spill. “There was a Native American tribe on the outskirts of Louisiana, outside of the levy system,” Cooper says. “I connected with them and stayed with them for three weeks. I learned a lot during that time about how oil exploration and exploitation has impacted primarily people of color and indigenous people. There is a whole racism component to environmental justice and to climate justice. I learned a lot through that whole project. That tribe had been through decades of oil exploration. More than 10 thousand miles of pipeline runs through their land and has destroyed the ecosystem and homes of people who have lived there for thousands of years.” Cooper went on to work on other projects, one with Montana PBS that won her and her team two Emmy awards for a BOULDER COUNTY’S INDEPENDENT VOICE

Profile for Boulder Weekly

5.9.19 Boulder Weekly  

5.9.19 Boulder Weekly