The Filmmakers

From filmmakers Alan Dater and Lisa Merton:

We hope that TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai will help viewers to see their relationship to the natural world in a different way. The connection between a healthy environment and healthy communities is at the core of the work of the Green Belt Movement, the NGO that Wangari Maathai founded in 1977, when she realized that the problems the rural women were having were directly related to their degraded environment. In taking steps to ameliorate their situation by planting trees, these women were not only addressing their immediate problems but the root cause of those problems as well.

Viewers have been moved and inspired by TAKING ROOT, and we hope that inspiration leads to action. The path that Wangari Maathai took from environmental justice to social and economic justice and then, ultimately, to peace, is what inspires audiences. They start to make connections that they have perhaps not made before.

In that spirit, we have partnered with the Katahdin Foundation to produce an action guide. The guide encourages people to take action in their local communities by becoming aware of trees and encouraging people to plant trees, and to make the connections between tree-planting, clean air, strong children and healthier communities and ultimately a healthier planet. We hope that TAKING ROOT encourages viewers to ask questions such as, “Who is living in degraded environments in the United States and why?” and then to seek solutions.

We also hope that the historical context of the film will raise awareness about how colonialism across the globe has been, and continues to be, at the root of environmental destruction in the "developing world." Viewing the land as a commodity, and the extraction of resources as more important than anything else, has led us to the global climate crisis in which we find ourselves today. This way of doing business in the developing world continues without taking into account the livelihoods, well being and environmental sustainability of local communities; we take what we need and leave.

Their three favorite films:

Alan Dater
Night on Earth by Jim Jarmusch
Cinema Paradiso by Guiseppe Tornatore
Grey Gardens by the Maysles brothers

Lisa Merton
Eyes on the Prize by Henry Hampton
Tom Jones by Tony Richardson

Their advice for aspiring filmmakers:

Listen for stories that are happening around you. Audiences connect to issues through personal stories; they hold power, inspiration and magic! All the films that we have made have arisen out of local connections. We may have ended up in Tibet or Kenya, but the original idea came from Vermont.

Their most inspirational food for making independent film:


Hamburgers and fries… you can even get them in Kenya.

Filmmaker Bios

Alan Dater and Lisa Merton

Alan Dater and Lisa Merton have been working together on the production of documentary films since 1989. Their productions include Home to Tibet, a film about a Tibetan refugee’s return to his homeland; Bridge of Fire, the story of the collaboration of a Japanese potter and a Vermonter potter; Wolf Kahn: Landscape Painter, a portrait of the well-known American painter; and The World in Claire’s Classroom, a documentary about a veteran Vermont public school teacher’s vision for teaching children how to respect themselves and others.

Alan Dater graduated from Goddard College in 1965 with a B.A. in philosophy. He began his film career in New York City shortly thereafter working on documentaries as a freelance soundman and later as a director/cameraman. Many of these productions were broadcast on the major U.S. networks and include Lifeline, an Emmy Award-winning medical documentary series for NBC; The Body Human, an Emmy Award-winning medical series for CBS; and National Geographic Specials. Dater has gained extensive experience in film and video from working on many productions on the arts, social issues and education as well as projects for the corporate world. These productions include the feature film Hi Mom, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Robert De Niro and a documentary about the country singer Johnny Cash called Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music. After moving to Vermont, Dater continued his freelance career and began producing independent films.

Lisa Merton began her career as a weaver. She studied textile design and weaving in Scandinavia and, after returning to the U.S., worked professionally as a weaver for 10 years. While studying in Norway, Merton was inspired by a series of tapestries that depicted the occupation of Norway by the Nazis. Her intent was to weave tapestry and use it as an art form for social change, but instead she ended up as a production weaver. It was not until she started making films in 1989 that she fulfilled her intent to weave images that could inspire social change. Dater has a master’s degree in teaching English and has taught English as a second language in multicultural classrooms. She brings her interest in education, cultural diversity and social change, as well as her skill as a craftsman, to the filmmaking process.

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