Environmental Film Festival in Nation’s Capital turns lens on Mother Nature

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

Mother Nature is the greatest cinematic canvas — it just takes the right camera to capture it.

Get ready for the 27th annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, which returns March 14 to 24 as America’s longest running environmental film festival since 1993.

“When it started, we had about 40 to 50 programs and this year we’ll have probably over 160 different films,” programming director Brad Forder told WTOP. “One of the things that’s stayed the same is our unique partnership model. Many of the partners we have, including museums like Smithsonian and embassies, have been there from the beginning. One in particular was National Geographic. … We’re thrilled to have them as a presenting sponsor.”

National Geographic Museum is just one of 26 venues, including Landmark E Street Cinema.

“We received over 600 submissions [from] over 30 different countries,” Forder said. “The first thing that we want to do is to give filmmakers a platform, so we want to showcase the best environmental films out there. … Secondly, we want to use those films as a springboard for conversation. … Whether it’s a one-on-one with a filmmaker or a panel of experts, our hope is that people take that and that it does inspire thought and stewardship beyond the theater.”

It all kicks off with the opening night screening of “The River and the Wall” by Ben Masters.

“This film frames the border wall issue between Mexico and the U.S. in the context of the environment,” Forder said. “How would a wall affect the ecology? How would it affect the wildlife? … He and four of his friends take a 1,200-mile trip from El Paso, Texas down to the Gulf of Mexico by horseback, by bicycle, by canoe, so along the way they’re showing us the areas that would be affected by a potential wall. … That’s a good one to kick things off with.”

After that, get ready for the climate change doc “The Human Element” by Matthew Testa.

“This is featuring James Balog, the photographer, whose previous film ‘Chasing Ice’ was a very popular film,” Forder said. “He’ll be back with us at the screening. Very excited about that.”

Outdoor adventure enthusiasts will enjoy the Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo.”

“That features Alex Honnold and his free climb of El Capitan,” Forder said. “It was incredible filmmaking. … The interesting thing also is that if you know the ending, which I did, you’re still on the edge of your seat. It is such a thrilling edit and it’s shot so well, so we’re thrilled.”

Along similar lines, check out the documentary “Return to Mount Kennedy” by Eric Becker.

“Jim Whitaker was the first American to summit Mount Everest; he and Bobby Kennedy took this expedition in the 1960s not long after John Kennedy’s assassination,” Forder said. “Fifty years later, both of their sons retrace their steps. One of the sons will be there, Bob Whitaker, as well as the director, and we’re hoping to hear from Jim Whitaker, who might phone in.”

If you’re looking for a family friendly option, check out “Science Fair” by Cristina Costantini.

“That’s following several students at the largest high school science fair,” Forder said. “In this case, it’s in California. It’s a great film, so that’s another family favorite.”

It all builds to the closing night screening of “Sharkwater Extinction” by the late Rob Stewart.

“Rob tragically lost his life during the filming of this,” Forder said. “His parents, Sandy and Brian Stewart, continued producing the film and they will be at the screening. We want the program to celebrate Rob’s life, but also his conservation work and specifically ocean conservation and shark conservation. The film tackles the shark-fin industry. It’s a wonderful film and a powerful film and we’re thrilled to be able to close out the festival with it.”

Don’t worry, if you miss any of the films you can catch them the final day for a “best of” series.

“One of the major take-aways in talking with filmmakers is that there’s this sense of urgency,” Forder said. “Filmmakers are anxious to push their messages out there and they want to send them to as wide an audience as possible. So we’re very excited about the lineup.”

Find more details on the festival website. Hear 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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