Environmental Film Festival hopes movies can heal Mother Nature

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Environmental Film Fest (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Can a powerful movie heal Mother Nature and change the world?

Behold the 26th annual Environmental Film Festival, which returns from March 15 to 25.

“One of the things we do in addition to screening films is we’re conveners for conversation,” programming director Brad Forder told WTOP. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve used the [festival] not just to watch film, but also to talk about the broader environmental issues.”

Starting last May, Forder narrowed 700 submissions to 130 films to screen at 30 venues, including National Geographic Museum, Carnegie Institution for Science and E Street Cinema.

“We have a great lineup,” Forder said. “We’ll have about 70 features and close to 50 shorts.”

Opening night kicks off with “The Last Animals” by Kate Brooks, a well-known photographer for both Time and Newsweek. After working as a cinematographer on such documentaries as “The Boxing Girls of Kabul” (2012), Brooks now makes an impressive feature directorial debut.

“It weaves in two different plots,” Forder said. “The first is [about] the dwindling plight of the northern white rhino. … When Kate started working on the film, there were seven white rhinos in the world. When they finished shooting, there were only three. … She also weaves in the plot of illegal ivory trafficking. We’re fortunate to have a discussion afterward with Kate.”

On Saturday, March 17 and Wednesday, March 21, don’t miss “Five Seasons” by Thomas Piper.

“It’s a more artistic film,” Forder said. “It’s a profile of Piet Oudolf, a landscape artist from the Netherlands. … [Piper] followed Piet in his gardens in the Netherlands for about a year or so, took him through the five seasons, as the title picks up on. It’s interesting; I did not know who he was. … He’s best known for his design of the High Line [walking bridge in Manhattan].”

On Wednesday, March 21, don’t miss the short film “Water Warriors” by Michael Premo.

“Michael is an activist himself turned filmmaker,” Forder said. “One of the things that’s great to find is a positive story. In this case, it was a community in New Brunswick, Canada who fought the oil and gas industry — and they were successful. … We’re thrilled to screen that.”

On Thursday, March 22, check out “Silas” by filmmakers Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman.

“Our theme this year is ‘Stories from the Frontlines,’ so we’re trying to give a platform to those environmental heroes,” Forder said. “One of those people is Silas Siacore, a Liberian activist. He’s done a lot of work for deforestation, working against illegal logging. … Anjali will be with us and we’re very fortunate to have Silas, as well. This is a film that took five years to make.”

It all builds to closing night with “The Game Changers” by filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, who won the Oscar for Best Documentary with “The Cove” (2009) about dolphin abuse in Japan.

“He’s been to the festival before with ‘Racing Extinction’ a couple of years back — a climate change film — so we’re glad to have him back,” Forder said. “It follows a group of world-class athletes whose diet is plant-based. They don’t eat meat; they don’t use meat as a protein in their diet. One of the narrators [is] James Wilks, a former UFC champion. He himself has a vegan diet. He will be there with us as well, so we’re thrilled to have Louie and James attend.”

The winning filmmakers are awarded prizes to fund their future filmmaking and activism.

“We have about a total of $30,000 that goes to four filmmakers for the awards,” Forder said. “Not only are we definitely trying to raise these films up for the quality of filmmaking, artistry and environmental message, we also want to support these filmmakers, too.”

Find more details on the festival website. Listen to our full conversation with Brad Forder below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Brad Forder (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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