By Kevin Redding
“There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’ … for the times they are a-changin.’’
The words and music of Bob Dylan will serve as a fitting soundtrack at Madison Steak House in Hauppauge Sunday, Sept. 24, during a special fundraiser to highlight and benefit the work of Eyes of the World Films — a New Jersey-based documentary company that focuses on the environment and socially relevant issues.
The Complete Unknowns, a Dylan cover band that spans the singer/songwriter’s six-decade catalog, take the stage at 5 p.m. and will rock the house with a mix of Dylan’s popular tunes and deep tracks until the end of the event at 8 p.m. Guests will enjoy a four-course dinner menu, have the opportunity to win raffle prizes that include a variety of Dylan memorabilia, and learn about Eyes of the World’s upcoming projects during the company’s quarterly fundraiser.
“Bob Dylan’s music really speaks to my heart and really opened my eyes as to what’s going on in the world when I was younger,” said Denise Dragiewicz, former Smithtown resident and the president of Eyes of the World Films. She directs and edits the company’s documentaries while her husband, Marc, a biologist, serves as environmental consultant and chooses each film’s subject and locations. “And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do — open people’s eyes to what’s going on with the environment and get people engaged.”
All proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward the production and completion of two new films being developed by the husband-and-wife duo.
“The Burning of Borneo’s Peat Swamp Forest,” which has begun filming in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, and will be the company’s fifth documentary, explores the degradation of Indonesian forestland in recent decades by way of out-of-control fires brought on by the region’s dry season.
The decimation has also hit the areas surrounding Sabangau National Forest, home to the largest breeding population of orangutans, and, as of now, 80 percent of orangutan habitat has been wiped out — a major focus of the film.
A short version of that documentary, made up of footage shot in Palangka Raya last winter, recently won the YALE e360 Environmental Video Contest, and the duo hopes to use any funds they raise to return to the location and finish production on a feature-length film on the subject. For the larger film, Denise Dragiewicz said, they are concentrating on a young Dayak activist named Emmanuela Shinta, who is attempting to convince the Indonesian government to protect the remaining forest.
“Indonesia has been on the path of environment destruction for many decades,” Dragiewicz said. “Many areas, including Palangka Raya, where we are filming, have had to deal with horrendous fire seasons that last months at a time [and] not only do these fires damage remaining forestland and what is left of the orangutan habit, but the smoke and murky, yellow haze that is the offspring of these blazes have been causing serious health problems.”
“The environmental films produced and put out are generally about the bigger picture of global warming and the storms,” she continued, “but you don’t really see these little community stories and how global warming is hitting people on a smaller level and that’s what we’re trying to show.”
Marc Dragiewicz, who regularly works in environmental conservation with specific expertise and experience in rainforests, said of the film, “This is the largest project we’ve worked on yet and it’s important. It’s a subject that’s really happening right now and affecting a lot of people. It’s kind of a cautionary tale that if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose our wildlife and we’re going to have some really bad air coming up in the future.”
The other film, titled “In the Dark,” is still in preproduction and will be the duo’s first feature narrative, revolving around the sexual violence against women and children in South Africa.
The filmmakers’ documentaries have played at a variety of film festivals around the world and appear on several environmentally friendly websites like Life of Terra and Sustainability TV.
They said an ideal goal from this fundraiser would be $5,000. Of course the films will cost more than that but every little bit helps, Denise Dragiewicz said.
“The more we’re able to raise, the more we’re able to produce these types of documentaries and that’s really important to me,” she said. “The fundraisers are a real celebration of art and passion, and we hope we can not only raise funding but also draw more people into being aware of the importance of preserving our natural habitats.”
Michael Weiskopf, lead singer of The Complete Unknowns — a six-piece band that formed 10 years ago out of a love for Dylan’s music — said when Dragiewicz contacted him to play the fundraiser, he was drawn in by her passion.
“I thought, ‘this is a serious filmmaker and this is a serious subject,’” Weiskopf said of orangutan conservation. “I’m interested in helping living things that can’t speak for themselves … so it’s a good cause to get involved in.”
As a self-professed “unapologetic Bob Dylan devotee,” Weiskopf said he looked forward to the event and attendees should expect to hear a wide variety of Dylan songs, old and new.“When you have 600 plus songs to choose from, it’s always interesting,” he said.
The fundraiser starts at 4 p.m. at Madison Steak House, 670 Motor Parkway in Hauppauge on Sunday, Sept. 24, and will cost $25 for the bar and $50 for dinner and the show. You can buy tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3047480.
Visit www.eyesoftheworldfilms.com and www.michaelweiskopf.com for more information.