updated 04/18/2010 AT 7:00 AM ET
•originally published 04/18/2010 AT 9:30 AM ET
The aliens may be blue in Avatar, the highest-grossing film of all-time, but director James Cameron and star Sigourney Weaver are using their movie to spread a message that’s proudly green.
The accomplished pair hosted the Eco Warrior Training competition, presented Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School by the Internet search engine Bing. Local high school students vied for $12,000 in scholarships delivering speeches on “An Environmental Lesson I Learned From Avatar and How to Apply It In My Community, New York City, America and/or the World.”
“As a New Yorker, I’m thrilled to be here to meet you, to talk to you about all of us becoming eco-warriors because our planet needs it. I got involved in Avatar, and I loved the experience. I loved the director, but I also really wanted to play Grace Augustine, who’s this kick-ass woman scientist,” Weaver, 60, told the more than 300 cheering teens in the audience.
“Unfortunately she’s on Pandora partially because there’s nothing left on Earth for her to study and for her to report,” she said. “It’s a dead planet.”
Weaver, whose character immerses in her studying the Na’vi species in the year 2154, tells PEOPLE she sees kids as responding to the movie’s ecological message. “I think children have a connection to nature that’s so deep when they’re born, and they’re closer in a way than we are as adults,” she says. “I think they’re so hip to all these things. My daughter [Charlotte Simpson, 20] would say hello to every single person on the street when she could barely talk, and she wouldn’t let us move on until the other person has said hello back.”
James Cameron says he and his wife of nine years, former model Suzy Amis Cameron, are driving that message home with their own children, twin son Quinn and daughter Claire, 9, and daughter Elizabeth Rose, 3. “We do it from two directions,” the Oscar winner, 55, tells PEOPLE. “We keep the kids off the computer other than just enough to be competent, and we keep them off the commercial channels, except for the Science Channel, Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet.”
Suzy, 48, interjects, “And we taught them how to mute the commercials.”
Having co-founded the eco-friendly MUSE Elementary school in Topanga Canyon, Calif., in 2006 with her sister, educator Rebecca Amis, Suzy adds: “The earlier you start with children exposing them to environmental studies, social rights and global awareness, it just becomes a reference point. It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’re recycling,’ and patting ourselves on the back, it’s just part of their world it just becomes a part of their make-up.”
Making a Difference
Asked what advice she would give to youths who want to make a difference in the world, Weaver looks no further than Avatar – whose DVD, appropriately enough, is being released on Earth Day, April 22.
Says Weaver: “It’s the message of the movie: Open your eyes. You’re never too young to open your eyes and go, ‘What is this world? What can I do? What do I like to do? What can I give that will improve the world and make me happy?’ I think that serving and being useful is the most satisfying thing, and there are so many ways to do it.”