Less than a day after covering the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Tom Brokaw braved a snowstorm to travel to the Sundance Film Festival. The veteran newsman wasn’t there to report on the indie film market. He touched down in Utah to promote “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman,” a Discovery Channel documentary he narrates about a group of Red Staters who become global warming believers as they try to stem the effects of climate change.
“It’s about citizens who become environmentalists and who become political activists for the right reason,” Brokaw told Variety, as he sat at a steakhouse table that offered up a tableau of the winter storm blanketing Park City. “They do it because it’s their life. It’s their livelihoods. It’s their legacy. It’s what their families have done all their lives.”
It’s an issue and a way of life that resonates with Brokaw. He grew up in South Dakota, in the heart of America’s agricultural center, and he returns frequently to a ranch he’s owned in Montana since 1989. There he’s raised sheep, cattle, and other animals, and put easements on his land to keep it preserved.
“Tom’s connection to the story was unique,” said Rich Ross, president of the Discovery Channel. “We wanted someone who had a connection to these type of people.”
Brokaw’s interest in conservation dovetailed with Discovery’s recent focus on shows and films that deal with environmental issues. Last year, for instance, Discovery bought the documentary “Racing Extinction” out of the festival and debuted it on its channel. As part of the premiere, the channel created a social advocacy campaign designed to educate Americans about animal species that could be eradicated by human behavior.
“Discovery is a purpose-driven company and we have to be a moral voice for a lot of these issues,” said David Zaslav, president and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications, and a former colleague of Brokaw’s at NBC.
Even half-a-continent away from D.C., politics loom large at Sundance. Brokaw sat down with Variety an hour after 8,000 protesters marched through the streets of Park City in opposition to the new president. The former NBC News anchor acknowledged that Trump had done little in his inaugural to temper his pugilistic message or to reach out to his political foes.
“It was much more of a campaign speech than I expected,” he said. “I thought he might make some transition. On the other hand, I’ve been talking to people inside the organization and they were pretty clear that even if he had changed his rhetoric, they’re not going to change what they intend to do or his style. It’s a big roll of the dice.”
Brokaw said that Trump’s political stock will never be higher