Documenting Innovation

Documenting Innovation

By Tom Milligan

It’s challenging to create a documentary video about innovation. I mean, you can’t simply sit a lot of people in front of a camera and call it good: Where’s the “innovation” in that?

In fact, it is pretty hard to describe what creates innovation – but that’s what we have been trying to do, and by the time you read this, you might have even seen our handiwork: “How a Place Matters” on Rocky Mountain PBS.

Videographer Joe Vasos and I took on this project in January, after the Smithsonian Institution named Fort Collins and Colorado State University one of six communities of innovation throughout U.S. history. The exhibit, Places of Invention, opened July 1 and will occupy the Lemelson Hall in the National Museum of American History until at least 2020.

Fort Collins and CSU were selected particularly for their national and global leadership in clean energy research. Pretty impressive, right? In this exhibit our fair city and university represent the future of innovation – there’s the word again – following behind such technological and cultural game-changers as Silicon Valley in the 1960s and Hollywood in the 1930s.

In tackling the documentary project, our premise was that the conditions that create the right synergy for an innovative community are not simple to build, but you know them when you see them in place – and we’ve got them here in the Fort. Our belief is that the open, adventurous, outdoorsy, scientific, artistic and friendly community here on campus and all over town has helped drive the innovative spirit that, in turn, has helped change the world of energy research. Long live the bikes, brews and bands that define our hometown!

So how did we express that spirit of innovation? We talked to people in and around Fort Collins – sometimes on trolleys, sometimes on rooftops, sometimes in tasting rooms, sometimes in loud engines labs, sometimes from the back of pickup trucks. We talked to experts on creative economies in places like Boston, Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle. After more than two dozen interviews, we came home with an even better appreciation of just how special our little pocket of innovation truly is, how much of our research is driven by a desire to make the world a better and, literally, brighter place by revolutionizing energy access for all, and understanding why we were included in the Smithsonian exhibit – and still a little geeked by the whole thing. Then we asked one of the hottest local bands, Post Paradise, not only to provide the soundtrack for the piece, but also to appear in the documentary.

One of our favorite lines from all these conversations about innovation is that “Here in Fort Collins, it’s not just what you are working on, but what you are dreaming of that matters.” We tried to catch that clean-energy lightning in a bottle to share, and hope you all enjoy the result.

How a Place Matters airs on Rocky Mountain PBS on Oct. 1 and Feb. 18, 2016, at 9 p.m. The video had its world premiere in conjunction with a concert by Post Paradise Sept. 17 at the University Center for the Arts.

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