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Premier of The Movie to Keep Squaw True

Truckee, Sept. 14
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Info: Friday, Sept. 14, Truckee Community Arts Center, doors open at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m., advance tickets:

In 2016, the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved a plan for the then-new owners of Squaw Valley Ski Resort, KSL, to build “six city blocks of high-rise development, 21 mansions, and an indoor waterpark in the valley” (Sierra Watch website). But many felt it wasn’t in keeping with the tradition of Squaw: to remain a special place focused on the culture of the mountains, and less on the development of the ski businesses around them. The Keep Squaw True movement was born from the efforts of environmental watchdog Sierra Watch, to combat developments like the one proposed.

Sierra Watch and its partners have since conducted environmental studies, prepared lawsuits challenging the decision to approve the development, and in an effort to get the word out, created The Movie To Keep Squaw True. The film represents a partnership between Sierra Watch, famed skiers and locals Scott and Robb Gaffney, mountain enthusiasts, and the community at large, in its efforts to protect one of the Basin’s most stellar features: its mountains.

After a sneak peek at the rough cut, we sat down with Sierra Watch’s executive director Tom Mooers, and the film’s writer and editor, Robb Gaffney, to talk more about the film, which premieres in Truckee on Sept. 14.

The issues featured in the movie are pretty complex. Can you tell us in a nutshell what the movie is about?

GAFFNEY: The movie is a David and Goliath story of a local community coming up against big money and big development. We’ve got an amazing opportunity to shape the future of our region and it’s happening right now with Sierra Watch. The movie does a good job at chronicling the history of Squaw Valley… and brings us to a real turning point. Where is Tahoe going to go in the future? In the end, it wraps up with a sense that the more people remain involved and stay involved, the more likely this place is going to hold onto the very values that brought us here in the first place.

The director’s cut maintains the iconic humor that Scott is famous for. Was that a conscious choice?

MOOERS: On the one hand … when we’re talking about the development proposed for Squaw Valley, we never forget that we’re talking about something that is a direct threat to everything we value about Squaw, Tahoe, and our mountains, and that’s what really drives the work we do. But we’re also human beings, and we need to figure out ways to keep our chins up as we face the threat of development ... Having a sense of humor is one way to keep ourselves going.

GAFFNEY: That was a conscious choice, yes. We had the opportunity to go straight documentary, and we knew there was going to be a tension going with the serious aspect … so we felt like to get this thing out there [we] needed to serve up a little bit of humor along with the seriousness.

The footage is stunning. Is it original?

GAFFNEY: We did film a fair bit of landscape and scenic shots, but we also reached out to cinematographers who have been here many years, and most of them were very happy to offer use of their footage, which has been very helpful.

Tom, can you speak to the choice to work with the Gaffney brothers on this film?

MOOERS: It’s a shared affinity for Squaw and Tahoe that Robb and Scott have embodied their whole adult lives, so it’s a real natural fit that they would be involved in this effort to keep Squaw true, and they both happen to be not only great skiers but great locals, and great filmmakers.

The film features quite a few pro and semi-pro skiers who both ski on the mountain and support Keep Squaw True. So, to clarify, you’re not recommending that people stop skiing at Squaw?

MOOERS: The community of athletes who call Squaw and Tahoe home are another great asset in the long-term effort to protect our mountains. It can be tricky for some of them to stick their necks out and get involved. So, the athletes who have stood up … have done so with no small degree of courage.

The whole point is to not let KSL, Alterra, and their development project take Squaw Valley from us. We encourage people to keep enjoying what is to many of us the greatest ski hill in North America.

In the movie, Tom refers to “a development proposal so out of touch with the value of this town…” What are these “values” you are referring to?

MOOERS: One is that we here in Tahoe value the great outdoors ... Another thing we value is the clarity of Lake Tahoe. There is a sense of culture and community here that’s tied into our mountains and the lake, itself, that is threatened by high rise condos … that would threaten to make this so we’d spend our time stuck in traffic instead of out on the trails.

GAFFNEY: We live in a remarkable ski region, and it’s a place that exists between major urban centers in Northern California and Nevada, and yet we’ve held on to the very thing that has made the mountain special. Across the ski industry, you see almost a franchise-like development, where you’re not really sure what mountain you’re on because they all look very similar to each other ... [People] always comment on how Tahoe has held on to this special quality, and it’s very difficult to define it. It’s a feeling state you get when you’re in this place. When we talk about development we want to hold onto that feeling state, and if we follow that franchise model we’re going to lose that. The asset is in the land … so there’s no way human beings can replicate what nature has provided us.

Tell us more about the referenced “McConkey Era.”  What was it, and what has it become?

GAFFNEY: In a way, we don’t want a mountain to become too manicured. It needs to maintain its color, its openness ... That’s what has made Squaw what it is all the way through, ever since skiing began here. Once you start to sterilize it, it takes away that very thing that has made the mountain so special. That is just an initial example of what’s to come as the mountain becomes more G-rated.

To quote the movie, “These ski towns need to be livable.” What does that mean?

MOOERS: I think in our campaign and in the movie itself … there are really no voices that are arguing there should be no growth. There have been efforts from locals … to come up with alternative development scenarios that allow for a substantial development, allow for more workforce housing, and don’t threaten the fundamental values of the place itself.

GAFFNEY: I tend to focus on community relationships. To have a healthy community you have to have diversity of thought and opinion, [and have a] tolerance of other ways of thinking and being. That diversity is critical. With the current situation, and one of the reasons we made the movie, it was very clear that the future of Tahoe was going to be guided by an agenda of a single entity. Part of the reason we made the movie is we saw democracy failing within the system of Placer County.

The film ends on a question mark. What is your biggest hope for what comes next?

MOOERS: I really believe the film will be helpful in our long-term effort to keep Squaw true. I think it’s a great way for more people to be aware of what’s at stake, and be encouraged to get involved for the long run. We know that the future of Squaw Valley depends on our ability to get people involved in standing up for this great place.

I think the other thing is … to set a positive example for other people dealing with the same things in similar places.

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February 14, 2019