Denial” tackles the complex issues of renewable energy, climate change, transgender identity and the need for corporate and personal transparency. The AFS Screening Series at LPCA resumes Jan. 26-27 with “Wonderstruck.”

Randy Pratt (L) and David Hallquist in DENIAL

Randy Pratt (L) and David Hallquist. Photo by Derek Hallquist, courtesy of Mosaic Films Inc.

LAKE PLACID, NY — The fall season of the Adirondack Film Society (AFS) extends into December with a special screening—and an Adirondack North Country premiere—at the historic Palace Theatre of a new documentary by Aaron Woolf, who is best known in the region as a filmmaker for his documentary about Big Agriculture, “King Corn.” For this new film, “DENIAL,” Woolf set out to tackle the complex issues of renewable energy and climate change by following the path of Vermont electric utility CEO David Hallquist.

As Hallquist struggles to build the kind of transparent company whose honest approach can get stakeholders to accept the realities of how we generate and deliver electricity in the face of climate change, David realizes he lacks transparency in his personal life and reveals to his family a lifelong secret: this chainsaw-wielding, hardhat-wearing CEO working in a male-dominated industry is a woman inside—soon to be named Christine. Thus, the initial narrative driving DENIAL takes an unexpected turn toward an entirely new direction—and, for the filmmakers, uncharted territory. Derek Hallquist, Dave’s son, directs, with Woolf serving as one of the film’s producers, writers and co-creators.

David Hallquist with grandson Jack in DENIAL

David Hallquist with grandson Jack. Photo by Derek Hallquist, courtesy of Mosaic Films Inc.

In a presentation by the AFS in association with Mosaic Films, “DENIAL will be screened Friday, December 8, at 7 p.m. at the Palace Theatre, located in downtown Lake Placid at 2430 Main Street (box office: 518-523-9271). Tickets are $10, available only at the door, cash only. For more info on this screening or to learn more about the AFS, please contact Operations Manager Fred Balzac at (518) 523-3456 or visit adirondackfilmsociety.org. To learn more about Mosaic Films, please visit www.mosaicfilmsinc.com.

Local Tie-In

For this special screening, Aaron Woolf will appear in person to introduce the film and lead a Q&A with the audience following the screening. Scheduled to join Aaron will be the director, Derek Hallquist, who also appears frequently in the movie, and the film’s main protagonist, Christine Hallquist.

Of special note is Aaron’s connection to the Palace Theatre via his volunteer work on the “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign of 2013. The Palace was one of several North Country movie theaters whose transition to digital projection was supported by the campaign, which was run the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA).

“It’s a great honor to be sharing this project at the Palace after collaborating on the ‘Go Digital’ project that helped preserve so many of our North Country cinemas,” said Woolf, who is based in Elizabethtown, where he co-owns the historic Deer’s Head Inn. “Films that touch on pressing social issues are important conversation-starters in our communities and I am very grateful to the Adirondack Film Society for giving us this opportunity.

“The fact that this screening of ‘DENIAL,’ with its themes of climate change and facing reality comes at a moment in which concerns about our national climate focus have taken on renewed urgency feels more timely than we could have imagined.”

This showing at the Palace represents the Adirondack North Country premiere of “DENIAL,” which had been originally scheduled to take place this past June during the flagship event of the AFS, the annual Lake Placid Film Forum, when a region-wide power outage forced a postponement — the irony of which was not lost on the film’s presenters. “DENIAL” had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2016 and has been shown at numerous film festivals since then, including the Environmental Film Festival at Yale University where it was the Audience Award winner and the MiFo LGBT Film Festival of Miami-Fort Lauderdale (now rebranded as the OUTShine Film Festival) where “DENIAL” was the runner-up for the Jury Award. Just days ago on November 12th, “DENIAL” had the rare honor to win both the jury prize for Best Documentary Feature and the audience “People’s Choice” award at the Reading Film Festival in Pennsylvania. A shortened, hour-long version of the film has appeared on numerous PBS affiliates across the nation since this past June.

last picture of David Hallquist as shown in DENIAL

The last picture of David Hallquist before his transition. Photo by Derek Hallquist, courtesy of Mosaic Films Inc.

The Film’s Narrative

The 92-minute documentary follows the story of David Hallquist, CEO of a Vermont electric utility, seen through the lens of his filmmaker son, Derek Hallquist, to whom Dave has granted intimate access to the inner workings of the energy industry. As a self-described “closet environmentalist,” Hallquist is dedicated to addressing the way electricity use in America contributes to climate change. But his mission is balanced with the utility’s charge to provide affordable and reliable service to their customers. The needs of business versus those of the environment have typically collided. For Hallquist, increasing the efficiency of the grid is the only meaningful route to merging these priorities.

He implements one of the country’s first smart grids—decreasing outages, increasing the capacity for renewable sources and building a national reputation as an energy pioneer.  Resistance, however, comes in many forms: traditionalists balk at renewable intermittency, solar and wind advocates think Hallquist is dragging his feet and the public fears that smart meters on their homes will send private information about their energy use to the government.

But as Hallquist struggles to build the kind of transparent company whose honest approach can get stakeholders to accept the realities of how we generate and deliver electricity, he realizes he lacks transparency in his personal life and reveals to his son a lifelong secret. Dave Hallquist—who presents himself as a chainsaw-wielding, hardhat-wearing CEO in a male-dominated industry—is a woman inside.

Now Derek’s family must face facts that feel far more immediate than the melting of the polar icecaps. The act of denial emerges as a common theme linking all of these issues. Ultimately the personal and the societal come together as Derek learns that his father, newly named Christine, is still indeed his father and that Christine’s unique perspective as the first American transgender CEO to transition in office may be just the what the limiting, binary worldview on energy and the environment needs.

Christine and Derek Hallquist as shown in DENIAL

Christine and Derek Hallquist before attending a meeting in Washington, DC. Photo by Aaron Woolf, courtesy of Mosaic Films.

The monthly AFS Screening Series at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts resumes Friday and Saturday evening, January 26-27, at 7 p.m. with “Wonderstruck,” directed by Todd Haynes and starring Julianne Moore, and continues February 16-17, March 16-17 and April 27-28—films to be announced.

Pictured at the top: David Hallquist pointing out an outdated transmission line to his son Derek in “Denial.” Photo courtesy of Mosaic Films Inc.