The Reluctant Radical

If a crime is committed in order to prevent a greater crime, is it forgivable? Is it, in fact, necessary? THE RELUCTANT RADICAL follows activist Ken Ward as he confronts his fears and puts himself in the direct path of the fossil fuel industry to combat climate change. The film reveals both the personal costs and also the fulfillment that comes from following one’s moral calling- even if that means breaking the law. The film follows Ken through a series of direct actions, culminating with an action that shuts down all the U.S. tar sands oil pipelines and threatens to put him behind bars for 20 years. Ken Ward has no regrets, and his certainty leaves the audience to consider if he is out of touch with reality, or if it is the rest of society that is delusional for not acting when faced with the unsettling evidence that we are collectively destroying our world.

  • Lindsey Grayzel
  • Lindsey Grayzel
  • Deia Schlosberg
    Awake, A Dream From Standing Rock; How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change
  • Mark Orton
    Original Music Score
    Nebraska, The Good Girl, Sweet Land, Everything is Illuminated, Buck, The Revisionaires and more...
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 17 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    September 15, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    55,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
    Missoula, Montana
    United States
    February 22, 2018
    World Premiere
    Official Selection, Best Feature Finalist
  • Salem Film Fest
    Salem, Massachusetts
    United States
    March 25, 2018
    East Coast Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Ashland Independent Film Festival
    Ashland, Oregon
    United States
    April 12, 2018
    Oregon premiere
    Official Selection, Screener's Choice
  • Princeton Environmental Film Festival
    Princeton, New Jersey
    United States
    April 12, 2018
    New Jersey Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Thin Line Fest
    Denton, Texas
    United States
    April 19, 2018
    Texas premiere
    Official Selection
  • Portland EcoFilm Fest
    Portland, Oregon
    United States
    April 21, 2018
    Portland, OR premiere
    Official Selection
Distribution Information
  • Collective Eye Films (educational only)
    Country: United States
Director Biography - Lindsey Grayzel

Lindsey is currently working to distribute THE RELUCTANT RADICAL, her feature length documentary which follows climate activist Ken Ward as he puts himself in the direct path of the fossil fuel industry. She is also in pre-production on an audio documentary about use of the necessity defense by climate activists in court. Lindsey began her career as an editor in 1994, then made the transition to producing and directing in 1999. Her passion for documentary stories has led her to a successful freelance career producing documentary and educational videos for non-profit organizations, local and state governments, and museums. Recent projects include films for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The Dougy Center, Kenai Fjords National Park and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Whether she is working for a client or pursuing an independent project, Lindsey is thrilled to be dedicating her storytelling talents on projects she feels make a positive impact in the world.

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Director Statement

The first conversation that I had with Ken Ward naturally turned to climate change. I had nagging feelings of guilt and futility when I thought about climate change, and my solution was to avoid thinking about it as much as possible. This conversation with Ken quickly zeroed in on my discomfort. He had a powerful yet simple message: The world is ending, and we’re pretending that it’s not happening.

Over the course of eighteen months of filming I went with Ken as he tried out various strategies of civil disobedience. He opened up for the camera, revealing a heavy load of angst, isolation and depression, but also dry wit, resilience and dogged determination. He confided his inner fears in the face of overwhelming odds, but time after time he would end his musings with one thought, “What else am I gonna do?” For Ken, doing nothing is never an option.

In the film, Ken goes through a transformation as he moves from being an isolated figure to contributing to larger movements and eventually leading the charge in planning the Shut It Down tar sands oil pipeline direct actions on October 11, 2016. On that day, Ken and four fellow activists shut down all five oil sands pipelines coming into the US, blocking 15% of U.S. daily oil consumption, prompting a response from the White House and gaining national attention.

Myself, my cameraman and my soon to be co-producer, Deia Schlosberg were all arrested that morning while filming the activists. The authorities confiscated our equipment, footage, notes, computers and phones. We were arrested, jailed, and charged with felonies for being present to document the events unfolding. This was not part of the plan. I assumed that I would be released when our equipment and a routine Google search would confirm that we were documentary filmmakers, doing our jobs. Instead, the sheriff issued a press release saying we broke into the facility, though their own police report and an eyewitness testified that we remained outside the fenced enclosure that Ken had broken into. It would take a month of lawyers filing briefs and reporters asking for comments before our charges were eventually dropped.

Since meeting Ken, I have been asking myself the same question he asks himself. “What else am I gonna do?” For me, the answer has been to tell Ken’s story in the hopes that it will inspire others. Facing the threat of thirty years in prison was a frightening experience, but also served as a validation that these stories are powerful agents for social change.

-Lindsey Grayzel