Isabella Rossellini: Actress, Director, Writer, and Rachel Carson Award Winner
Here’s the fourth and final post on the four Rachel Carson Awards winners honored this year by National Audubon Society for following Carson’s tradition as environmental leader and forward-thinker. At the Women in Conservation Luncheon this past May, actress Isabella Rossellini, Suzanne Lewis, superintendent of Yellowstone, Tiffany Foundation president Fernanda Kellogg, and Disney’s Beth Stevens earned accolades.
The enormous success of Green Porno and Seduce Me, Isabella Rossellini’s series on the Sundance Channel about the courting and mating rituals of various organisms, brought her love of the animal kingdom to the small screen. It also got the attention of people who work on Audubon’s Women in Conservation Program. Hollywood royalty, Rossellini is now highlighting the majesty of wildlife—and occasionally the plights they face—with her unconventional pieces, bringing attention to how much we don’t know about the world around us and why conservation is critical. Audubon had the opportunity to speak with her about her project and Rachel Carson Award. That entertaining discussion, in edited form, follows.
How did you come up with the idea for the Green Porno and Seduce Me series?
Robert Redford, who is always seeking to expand what we mean by film or audio visual, thought that the Internet may be the opportunity to revive a short-film format. Short-film format was very popular at the beginning of cinema. It disappeared around the ‘60s when television became very strong, and so the shortest-film format that exists nowadays that has a professional outlet is the half-hour TV, which is 22 minutes, and then the rest is advertisement. Redford commissioned several people, including me, to try to come up with ideas for a series of two-minute films, and he also added that if the series were about the environment, he would like it because he’s a very committed environmentalist, Redford. And at the time, Sundance was also doing a program called The Greens and it’s how to make your house green, how to eat green, and so I thought, they don’t have green porno. I’m going to make Green Porno for them.
I’ve always been interested in animals and animal behavior just as a hobby, but I do know that it is a strange hobby. But I knew everybody was interested in sex, so I said, 'Okay, I’m going to make these short films about the sex lives of animals.' We did the first three and Redford liked them, and then he commissioned eight, and now we’re up to 28 in Green Porno and Seduce Me. We are doing more and more and more.
Did you expect the shows to be as successful as they have been?
No, no we didn’t expect it. I was always complaining as an actress or as a model, saying, ‘Oh you know all these films, or art in general, they talk about love, there is an enormous subject about love, but there is very little about the environment in the arts.’ A lot of it is sexuality or making love, or falling love, or tragedies, but to me, my mind is very occupied with animals or the environment and I never see that reflected in the arts, so when this opportunity at Sundance came, I thought well maybe I’ll be the artist that makes this. But I also wanted to make it comical. There isn’t really anything—yet—funny about the environment, it’s always presented in very dark tones, and I know that just going bird watching, or living with my dogs, makes me laugh. Animals make me laugh, I find them comical, so I wanted to capture that.
How did you prepare for the series?
I always take classes because I don’t have a background in science, and they’ve been very, very helpful for me to write scripts and stories. I wrote a script about Darwin, so classes were essential. And then I have to two consultants. I think I’ll continue to take classes forever. I’m so old that the teachers, they’re always very kind to me. They understand that there’s this old crazy lady there. [She says laughing.]
You said you’re a bird watcher. Have you always been interested in the environment?
I’ve always liked animals, so that’s the impulse. Now that they’re so threatened, you become more interested in the environment. I feel like a lot of other people: responsible to do something.
How does it feel to be honored as a woman in conservation?
I was very surprised because I see myself as a clown, I don’t see myself as an activist, and so I was very surprised. There are a lot of people that are working in the environment in a much more acceptable way, but mine can be a little controversial, so I’m very grateful. I hope that the world comes to recognize that maybe there is room for art that is dedicated to the environment, and I guess that was maybe what they understood in my attempt, so I’m very pleased.