Explore The Corners Of The Soul's Awakening: An Interview With Summer Rayne Oakes

Posted by: Necci – Feb 16, 2012


Summer Rayne Oakes is known as the world's first eco-model, but the emphasis is definitely on "eco." With degrees in Environmental Science and Entomology from Cornell, Summer originally got involved with the world of fashion modeling as an effort to disseminate environmental awareness. Since then, she's worked as a correspondent for Discovery Channel's Planet Green, produced the first sustainable fashion editorial to appear in a magazine for Lucire, and authored the book Style, Naturally: The Savvy Shopping Guide To Sustainable Fashion And Beauty.

Now she has written, produced, and starred in a short film called eXtinction, which will be playing in Richmond this weekend as part of the MIX International Short Film Festival. eXtinction is an environmentally themed short film based around the idea that the important issues for our environment are not things that will happen thousands of years from now but things that are happening right now, all around us. Together with director Clayton Haskell, Summer Rayne Oakes uses her own personal story to bring a passionate personal connection to these more wide-ranging topics. In an effort to learn more, I spoke with Summer about her film, her career, and her passion for environmental preservation.

How did you get started in environmental activism?

I always loved being out in nature.
It's what makes me come alive.
It was a natural transition
to feel responsibility
for something that you love
so much.
It may manifest to others
as "activism,"
but it's really
just how I live out
my life.

What is your previous artistic background?

I actually wanted to go to school for visual arts for the longest time - but most of my artwork was inspired by nature and Native American culture. So you can say my love for the environment won at the last minute. Now, however, I get to be around artists every day. Working on the nexus of the design, environmental and media industries has allowed me to use my whole self - my body, my mind, my voice, my soul - as art.

Is eXtinction your first film project? What made you decide to use this medium to deliver your pro-environment message?

eXtinction is definitely my first major film project. I have written, produced and starred in short films that I do for Source4Style called The Cutting Edge, help produce some films for ABOVE Live, and worked with Discovery Networks for a few years as an on-air correspondent... but yes, eXtinction was a whole other level for me.

What is it about eXtinction that makes it so different from other environmentally-minded films out there?

It is the combination of striking moving images, timeless music, and a powerful message that gives the viewer of this film a spiritual experience. It is meant to be concise and direct; it neither indulges in excessive pedantry nor proselytizes an environmental ideology. It simply reveals the beauty of our natural world and what we stand to lose within a lifetime.

Are you planning on or interested in making more films on environmental topics going forward?

eXtinction was very cathartic for me to do — it is something of a cinematic glimpse of my soul — while also being an impassioned public service announcement for Planet Earth. The process of making it inspired me. And it has deeply moved those who have had the chance to see it. Given this outcome, of course I will do another film!

What are the specific environmental issues you are most interested in raising awareness of?

There are so many compelling ones to choose from. In eXtinction, I chose to focus on the most well-researched ones, like the extinction of big animals, the melting of glaciers and the disappearance of coral reefs.

I'm an entomologist and ecologist by training, so the disappearance of honey bees and its effect on our overall ecosystem is very compelling. Clay and I shot another short film called The End of Bees that explored that issue for ABOVE. We used a little of that footage in eXtinction.

In subsequent films, I'd like to help bring some of the more esoteric environmental topics - like the loss of biodiversity - into a more artistic, but easily digestible light.

What effect did your work with Tom Eisner have on the creation of eXtinction, and the final form of the film?

Tom was one of the biggest mentors in my life. When he passed, I realized that it was the first time that I had felt real loss. I also felt sheepish because when someone that amazing passes - you wonder if you will ever come close to such greatness.

How did you carry that through the film?

In a way, the film humanizes loss. It gives the viewer a way to contextualize the speed of ecosystem degradation by giving us a chilling reminder of our own mortality. It is my hope that the film will touch the viewer's soul by highlighting that which is most vulnerable.

How did you get together with director Clayton Haskell?

Clay and I met on a Discovery set. I joke that we both got fired that day because he was flirting with me the whole time [laughing] - but that's only partially true. Ever since then, Clay and I have been good friends - and we have such a great creative chemistry through the lens. You don't always get that with a photographer or filmmaker - but I have that with Clay.

What was your working relationship during the creation of this film?

It was - as it always is - very organic - with me being the occasional nag with a whip... very necessary with deadlines (and creative types)! But we didn't even storyboard the whole piece. We sat down and Clay saw part of the film underwater. I saw part of the film in an old hospital... Stavros came in and brought in his amazing editing artistry. The sound design team brought some wicked sound skills... the whole piece was a community project.

What are your future plans for eXtinction?

Submit to more festivals until end of May and strategize a release online. I'm sure all filmmakers say this - but I think the whole world should see it.

What is your hope for the outcome/influence of eXtinction?

Quite simply — to move people, to give us [the viewers] a way to feel human again, to be reconnected with the wonderful potential and eternal limitations of our species. Maybe it will even inspire some of us to action. What form of action? How far must we go to curb this loss? That is for all of us to figure out.

What other upcoming projects do you have in the works?

Not all are related to film - but my business partner and I just launched the 2.0 of Source4Style, which is a B2B marketplace connecting designers to sustainable suppliers around the world. More film is in the near future - in many different forms... I want to explore the corners of the soul's awakening through the medium. I'm fascinated by the intersection of fashion, film and environment - and will probably continue down that path in the near future.


eXtinction will be shown during the MIX International Short Film Festival as part of the screening that begins at 1:30 PM on Sunday, February 19. A Q&A with Summer Rayne Oakes will follow after the screening. Tickets for this event can be purchased HERE.

By Andrew Necci