t0108_adrian_grenier_376 CREDIT J.R. Mankoff

Interview: Paul D. Miller / DJ Spooky

Adrian Grenier has joined forces with filmmaker Joshua Zeman to create 52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale in the World, a documentary about the Lonely Whale (aka “52 Hertz”), who communicates at a frequency other whales can’t hear. The whale has had his story recounted on CNN, BBC, and other international outlets and has inspired people around the world to compose songs, poems, and books about his situation of being a “friendless” whale. Because Adrian is into sound, sound is highlighted as a means of universal communication in the Loneliest Whale project.

ORIGIN Magazine caught up with Adrian to catch up on how his passion project has been unfolding.

Paul D. Miller: Hey, Adrian. I’d heard about this 52-hertz scenario with the whale, that it could not be heard by other whales, and I’d heard you were involved. What are your thoughts on some of the environmental issue with the ocean and sound?

Adrian Grenier: When I first heard the story of the Lonely Whale, who speaks that 52-hertz, a unique call, different from other whales, I was immediately compelled and wanted to know more. But most importantly, I felt myself soften. My empathy levels spiked, and I didn’t understand what that would mean until later. Now that I’ve been working on this project, to me that’s the most important aspect of this story. Lonely whales have the ability to bring people in and give them an opportunity to feel and have empathy. Somehow, he reflects a humanness, something that’s within all of us, and that’s really something that immediately got me and excited me about the story of Lonely Whale.

PDM: You’ve always been involved with what I call “the social-good movement,” and there are other artists and actors that I think inspire and/or help amplify what I view as kind of dynamic. I would love to hear what your take is on how the arts can help with these kinds of things and catalyze people?

Also, do you think that your role is just as much part of an arts movement or is it more a solo thing? You’ve worked at co-ops and you’ve supported independent, young children, and music education. You’re very much involved in helping people activate and getting people more motivated.

AG: I really do believe that in order to overcome our environmental shortcomings, we have to act united as a people, and that means that every individual has to participate and do their part. Certainly, we need government and legislation, but the governments really listen to people, so we all have to bring to the table our own effort or our own passion in whatever way that manifests itself. I’m a filmmaker, I’m a storyteller, an entertainer, if you will, so what can I do to participate? Well, I’m not a scientist; I’m not an expert on environmental law; I’m a guy that can tell stories. So I always look for a way to communicate ideas and help to spread excitement for change.

So that’s what I’ve always looked to do for my own personal part, and that’s why Lonely Whale is such a perfect story that came about because he’s a hero character that, even though he has a hard time communicating amongst his own species, has a lot to say about what it means to reach out and empathize with otherness. Understanding that which is foreign to you is fundamental to cultivating a sense of connection and unity with one another. We are ultimately trying to accomplish the same thing, which is survival and the thriving of a better world.

PDM: It’s the beginning of 2015, and everybody’s buzzing about Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview, and it’s been a watershed moment for online cinema. And people support stuff like Architecture for Humanity with Cameron Sinclair. Do you have any conceptual projects coming up that inform stuff like this? What other artists or directors do you think are in your zone in the culture?

AG: I’ve always had a real interest in new media and modern ways of using technology to communicate and tell stories. One thing we’re doing with Lonely Whale is looking to build out multiple touch points to connect with various demographics. We as independent filmmakers, independent thinkers, and communicators have the opportunity to do the things that were at one time relegated to the big studios, but now we can operate in the same ways by creating content and online opportunities for people to come together and connect with our story.

That being said, we’ve been putting together partnerships to create lots of different content and apps and even an education platform so that the story of Lonely Whale can spread and expand beyond just a film and to a children’s book with an education component and curriculum tied to it. We were working with the Academy for Global Citizenship, an incredible charter school in the South Side of Chicago, serving a community that’s eighty percent under the poverty level, and they’ve done something so incredible by teaching core STEM classes through the lens of sustainability, their mascot being none other than a whale, a true global citizen that traverses the oceans around the world. With them, we’re putting together this opportunity to connect with young kids and letting this story of Lonely Whale resonate with them. It resonates with everybody but particularly young people.

So for me, the Seth Rogen Interview story is happening more and more where you start to realize that conventional distribution is one way to go about it, but if you don’t have a larger lateral game plan, you’re going to miss out on opportunities to connect with people, because people consume where they are and where they want to be, not where you tell them to be.

PDM: I always have been respectful of the fact that you go for such a young demographic to kind of bring them up to speed. Where does that come from? Was it like a family thing, parents or teachers, brothers or sisters? I was wondering, what makes Adrian tick, because it’s definitely out of the normal comfort zone for artists and actors. It’s going really young, but it’s really cool to see. Where did it start?

AG: I’ve always been a very rebellious, philosophical person, so my mother set the foundation for my appreciation for nature and my empathy for other people. But then, being a sort of rebellious, philosophical thinker, I’m always looking for new ways to shake things up. So I feel like I’m really lucky to be alive in a time where there’s so much opportunity to disrupt and shake it up. It’s sort of a combination between that and having the foundation that my mother gave me. She taught me a lot of Native American values of respect for nature and calm reflection on the footprint that we cause and trying to tread lightly and disturb nature as little as possible, but also the disturbing status quo that would have us consume and just keep silent politically. I think it’s important that we run that tension between the way things are, in terms of the way we’re governed, and the way we sort of become complacent. Also, I’m sort of always trying to reinvent and recreate a better way of being, because, you know, democracy has been “the worst of all political systems except for all the rest.” So I think we have a lot of room to grow and be a better society, and it’s a constant battle. It’s an exciting opportunity to be active.

PDM: On one hand, you have a major footprint in mainstream culture, but on the other hand, you’ve been relentlessly independent. What I’d love to hear is your prediction for 2015 independent film and docs, because a lot more people are realizing that docs can really bring light and shine a different perspective on things, and I’d love to hear what your thoughts on 2015 are for not only your own work but anything else you think is bubbling up in the scene.

AG: First of all, I’d like to invite all of your readers to check out @LonelyWhale on all social-media accounts: Instagram, Twitter, etc. Also, we are launching our Kickstarter campaign, so please come support if you can, because we’re doing it together. We’re not financed by a big studio or anything, so we’re going to make this movie because of you.

And that leads into my answer: the future of cinema and communications is all about collaboration and the decentralized control of storytelling. We’re all part of the story; we can all contribute and participate. So I’m really looking forward to experimenting with how to create that. We’re doing a big event where all the content is going to come from contributors online, and it’s going to be all Lonely Whale content. People all over the world are submitting pictures and songs and art reflecting their reaction to the story of Lonely Whale. So for me, it’s just about being more independent, more autonomous, more connected to real people, and less beholden to hierarchy and infrastructure.

PDM: What you’re up to is the same thing with Adbusters Magazine, which is one of my favorites. It’s an interesting moment, because I think people respond to community, and that’s something you’ve been very active with. This whale, it’s just all frequency, which to me is surreal, because nature always wants you to be able to communicate with your fellow species. So it’s kind of intriguing. Maybe we’re not seeing its other community. It’s a great metaphor for a lot of things.

AG: Yeah, it is greatly symbolic on many levels. He’s known as the Lonely Whale, and on one level, he reflects our human existential reality of being alone and floating in this abyss of life, but at the same time, it’s really about staunch independence and embracing your unique voice and having the bravery to speak differently than those around you and communicate from your own special point of view. So I think there’s an uplifting, exciting story here. He really does speak for those of us who maybe are different and maybe do have something new to bring to the table if we just dare to do it and give ourselves an opportunity and try to understand that which is extremely
different.

PHOTOS: J.R. MANKOFF

ADRIANGRENIER.COM | LONELYWHALE.COM

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