Sigurd F. Olson (1899-1982) was a passionate conservationist, a presidential advisor, and a charismatic back-country woodsman. He was the author of New York Times bestsellers The Singing Wilderness and Listening Point among many other works. His conviction that wilderness is vital to human health and happiness arose from the idea that we have a biological, evolutionary connection with nature, and that our spirit suffers in isolation from it.
This all well before e-mail, iPods, and cell phones. Thirty years after his death, this film will take a new look at the importance of his ideas at a time in which every advance in technology further segregates us from our natural origins. It will examine Olson’s life to learn how he came into his ?wilderness theology, as it has been termed in the critically acclaimed biography A Wilderness Within by David Backes. As he chafed against the stifling theology of his father, a Baptist minister; as he stood up against friends and neighbors, courted presidents and statesmen in his efforts to preserve the natural areas dear to him; and as he struggled many years to find voice for his connection with nature, Olson gradually formulated his belief in the fundamental importance of wilderness for humankind.
In addition to interviews with his son, his biographer, and others who knew him and whose lives he changed, we’ll speak with contemporary experts from the disciplines of psychology, ecology, biology, anthropology, and burgeoning fields like eco-psychology and socio-biology. For the backbone of the film we’ll follow a group of college students into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a vast wilderness which Olson was instrumental in preserving, for a two week expedition as they study his writing and record their own impressions of their wilderness experience. We have the full cooperation of his family, his biographer, and The Listening Point Foundation which was created to further his legacy, and complete access to a wealth of archival photographs, audio recordings and film footage, including a vintage 1956 activist film he himself produced and starred in.
By examining Olson’s life – the struggles and achievements which led him to his beliefs – and by evoking the wilderness experience, as he did so eloquently in his writing, this film argues for the importance of wilderness for both our spiritual and our physical survival.