Access Pollywood: The Military Cleans Up In ‘The Burden’

by Erica Moody

Roger Sorkin’s new documentary premieres at the Environmental Film Festival.

By Erica Moody 

Photo by Jeff Malet

Michael Breen, Sharon Burke, James Goudreau, Kevin Johnson, Roger Sorkin, Philip Hart Cullom and Jonathan Powers (Photo by Jeff Malet)

The military’s taking on a new global enemy, and it’s not one that you would expect. “The Burden,” Roger Sorkin’s new short documentary, highlights the U.S. military’s battle for clean energy. Last Friday, The Truman National Security Project and Operation Free hosted the world premiere of one of the Environmental Film Festival’s most talked-about films, at the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center.

After the screening, a lively panel of veterans and clean energy leaders discussed the film, the state of defense energy policy, fossil fuel dependence and how the military is leading our transition away from oil. There were three combat veterans, an active duty Navy officer, and a former defense official, in addition to the filmmaker. One of the panelists, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs Sharon Burke shared with Washington Life her thoughts on the film:

“Originally, I was apprehensive about the film, because it’s a complicated story to tell if you’re going to be true to the military mission,” Burke said. “I worried it was either going to indict the U.S. armed forces for being profligate or hail them for being energy saviors, when neither is fair. What I saw instead was a good description of what energy security means for the military. It was actually very moving for me to see not only firsthand accounts of service members in the fight, but also the footage of them actually doing the job of moving fuel. What I saw on screen was consistent with what I saw in my job at the Department of Defense.”


“People who see the film might wonder if this all still matters, given the dramatic fall in oil prices,” Burke told us. “And while the price difference does mean more money in consumers’  pockets, it doesn’t change the vulnerability of military supply lines to attack, nor does it change the fact that the price at our pumps is influenced by a global market — and not every country in that market is friendly or stable.”

In addition to Burke, panelists included Executive Director of the Truman National Security Project and former Captain in the U.S. Army Michael Breen, Director of Policy & Partnerships at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy James Goudreau, Director of Federal Business Development at Canadian Solar (USA) Kevin Johnson and the film’s producer/director, Roger Sorkin.

“In Iraq and Afghanistan, where fuel convoys were vulnerable to constant attack, I saw firsthand that energy efficiency can be a matter of life or death,” said Breen. “America’s dangerous dependence on oil here at home increases global demand for fossil fuels – putting money in the pockets of countries that don’t share our values. A transition to clean energy is a national security imperative, and the military is leading the way.”

For more on the film, follow @TheBurdenFilm on Twitter, Facebook or visit Watch the film trailer here. The next screening will be in Charleston, South Carolina on Tuesday, April 7 and will include remarks from cast member and former Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, who now leads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University.


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