CHRISTINA LESSA: You are a known iconoclast and liberal activist having spoken out on such important and widely varied topics from, protection of the environment, with your Bicycle for a Day project, to religious philosophy, in your short film, Jesus Was a Commie. What’s been the ongoing theme for your many explorations?
MATTHEW MODINE: Stella Adler, who I studied with in New York, said “If you came to my class to be a movie star, you can get up and leave right now. I don’t teach that. If I’m lucky, I’ll teach you to be a human being.” Stella had no idea how important this idea was to me. She couldn’t have known that I believed that a human being was a citizen of the world. Human beings are not from a particular place or country. They live without prejudice, are open minded and respect all forms of life. I had wanted to become a human being since I was a boy and saw the photographs of the earth, our home, taken from the surface of the moon! The ideas I present in my film, Jesus Was a Commie are ideas I’ve been struggling with for decades. Like so many before me, I’m trying to figure out the big mystery: what are we doing here? How did this miracle of life on earth happen? In all the vastness of the universe how did these precious conditions for life — as we know it — occur? Is there a god? If so, what made the god? These unanswerable, “What is the meaning of life?” questions keep me up at night. I’m not a member of any organized religion. I consider myself “spiritual” and open to exploration . And this is the goal of the film. To start a conversation where there is all too often none. To get around dogmas. Not just in religion, but also political and environmental polarisations. The film is less about Jesus and communism, and more about communal cooperation. I use Jesus as an example of a man who started a revolution. A man responsible for a dramatic change in the way people thought; progressive and liberal thinking in a time of Empire. With no army and no weapons, he led people toward a new, more humane way of thinking; toward a philosophy of love and forgiveness. These ideas are being tested and explored at this very moment by thousands of American’s across the United States and around the world.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Like all of us at FLATT, you take a strong stance against violence. What are your thoughts on what is happening in this country right now in terms of gun violence?
MATTHEW MODINE: The earth is around 4.6 billion years old. Our Neanderthal ancestors were around about 5 to 10 million years ago. The Sumerians may be the oldest known civilization, established around 4500 years before Christ. In the last century, its estimated that a staggering 240 million people have died as a result of war. Given the age of the earth and the ascent of man and civilization, I’d say there is a large part of a vast majority whose brains are no more evolved than a lizards. These are the people fighting to maintain idiotic, “stand your ground” laws, and assault weapon ownership.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Empathy, in terms of mindful creativity, is what I believe connects all of humanity. What are your thoughts on how empathy plays into the creative economy in terms of its impact globally in the 21st century?
MATTHEW MODINE: Empathy and forgiveness are the most valuable assets to modern, progressive civilization. With them, follow the sustainability and humane stewardship of our natural resources. If you understand and possess these, you will naturally desire to protect all the amazing life forms we share the planet with. The biggest problem facing the industrialized countries is that they have structured their success on consumerism. A consumer economy will inevitably fail. The earth cannot sustain a consumer economy. Her resources are finite, not infinite.
CHRISTINA LESSA: What individuals and or projects from the past and present have influenced your work and ethics in the most powerful way?
MATTHEW MODINE: The most influential character in my environmental life was Jacques Cousteau. Not only did he make me aware of the environment and the creatures we share the world with, he taught me many ways to proactively takes steps to save and protect them. It’s very difficult to fight the exploitation and industrialization of our oceans and forests. The companies that have the money to exploit the earth’s natural resources also have the powerful weapons and propaganda tools to act and capitalize on those actions as they please.
CHRISTINA LESSA: What community based projects interest you right now?
MATTHEW MODINE: I’ve been working on a hydrogen energy project for almost a decade now. The man I’ve been working with, Nicolas Kernene, has great humanitarian aspirations for this source of clean, sustainable energy. Nic doesn’t want to wait to be as rich as Bill Gates before he does something to help humankind. From the start, he has asked me to guide his company to be a leader in humanitarian efforts.
CHRISTINA LESSA: What is the one fantasy project that you would like to bring to fruition in your lifetime?
MATTHEW MODINE: Bicycle for a Day. I started this not for profit a decade ago. BFAD has helped raise national awareness of urban cycling. Not racing: commuting or Upright Cycling. I was asked if there was something I could do to improve the environment, what would I do? I said, “Bicycle”. Choosing to ride a bike instead of driving a car has an immediate positive impact on the environment. Not to mention the benefits to your personal health. My goal with BFAD is to create a kind of global critical mass – a day when the whole world would be united by a bicycle event. A day when everyone would choose not to drive a car, but ride a bicycle. The biggest movement in the history of the earth is the environmental movement and BFAD would be the event that would unite the world in solidarity for that movement.
The average person loses 13 pounds their first year of commuting by bicycle.
3 hours of cycling per week can reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke by 50%.
In 1964, 50% of kids rode to school and the obesity rate was 12%. In 2004, 3% rode to school and the obesity rate was 45%.
The United States could save 462 million gallons of gasoline per year by increasing cycling from 1% to 1.5% of all trips.
Each auto-commuter in the U.S. spends an average of 50 hours a year stuck in traffic.
In 2003, cars stalled in traffic wasted 5 billion gallons of fuel.
CHRISTINA LESSA: What film project are you working on right now?
MATTHEW MODINE: I’m preparing a film which I wrote and will direct. It’s called, The Rocking Horsemen. I always wanted to be in a band. This is my chance to live that dream. I am lucky to be able to be in this position. You have heard it said that luck is actually hard work. This is a fact. Luck equals preparation for when opportunity knocks.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Exposure to the arts is key to the success of our creative economy which is so vital now in terms of job creation. I read that you grew up in the drive-in-movie theater that your Dad managed and that you had your acting epiphany while watching “Oliver!” Because of this it seems you had a head start in obtaining access to art. With publicly-funded arts programs being cut from our budgets, what is your opinion on private philanthropy?
MATTHEW MODINE: In addition to all of those cinematic influences, I had terrific exposure to other arts at home. My Father taught me to paint at a young age with watercolors so that I could learn the essential elements of the value of light and composition. I realize that not everyone has those types of opportunities.
In terms of more mature artists that are finding their way, it’s always been difficult for artists to sustain themselves. Benefactors and patrons have often been the life’s blood for artists. But artists must not be perturbed or become despondent if they do not have support from someone else. Graffiti artists take their voice to the streets. Musicians busk. Comedians perform in parks. The need to speak and create and sing has to be stronger than the desire to find financial support from others. While it is sometimes essential that public programs and philanthropists ensure that artists do not starve, I think artists are better at being artists when they’re hungry.