Ellen Tripler

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Tripler is a 2012 master's graduate of the American University School of Communications and a mother of two from Bethesda. Her documentary "Dying Green" won a silver Oscar this month at the 2012 Student Academy Awards.

How did you get into filmmaking?

I studied film in undergrad, but I never pursued it because I was living abroad and it never worked out. Then I was living in Wisconsin, and I interned with a couple of documentary filmmakers. It was something always in the back in mind that I wanted to pursue. I realized I couldn't just be a mom.

"Dying Green" is about the funeral industry's impact on the environment, and what one South Carolina man is doing to fight it. How did you come up with that topic?

A friend of mine gave me a book by an environmental journalist. And it had all these interesting stories about how people were fighting back against the way that we have always dealt with death. We had to pitch different story ideas in class, and I pitched this idea and everybody's mouth was open. People had so many questions. ... If people knew how toxic dying in America was, they probably wouldn't choose to do it [the same way].

What did you learn?

It was really hard to find answers. Not to be negative about the funeral industry, but it's not something we talk about until it's right in front of us. In the United States yearly, we bury enough cement to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit. Why? It's not necessary. And then you think of the land use and the upkeep.

What's next for you?

Hopefully, having won these awards is going to open up doors and I can get some grant money. I like making films that have a positive ilk to them. There's enough doom and gloom out there.

- Steve Contorno

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