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Climate Change Takes Center Screen at 26th Environmental Film Festival

By Samantha Subin

Generational oyster farmers in Japan, sustainable farmers in Virginia, modern-day shepherds in France and ivory hunters in Kenya.

People from all corners of the globe and all walks of life — not to mention the animals and ecosystems that live among us — will see their existence impacted in one way or another by climate change. The effects of a warming planet are already being felt both near and far, from scorching wildfires in California to record-high temperatures in the Arctic.

Given the contentious debate over climate change in Washington, D.C., this year’s Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, which runs from March 14 to March 24, has taken on a renewed sense of urgency and relevance.

The festival, now in its 26th year, is the largest of its kind in the world. It will screen more than 100 films for an audience over 20,000 in collaboration with 110 partners throughout the city, including different embassies, universities and museums.

“The films highlighted this year will not only illuminate the crisis at hand but speak to what we can do as a civilization to save our planet,” said Christopher Head, executive director of the Environmental Film Festival (EFF), in a press release. “The sheer beauty of Earth, depicted in many of this year’s films, is in itself enough to make people want to take action immediately.”

Afghanistan Ambassador Roya Rahmani
“A Modern Shepherdess,” winner of the “Hausman Foundation for the Environment Award for Best International Film,” and directed by Delphine Détrie, follows a mother as she leaves her Parisian lifestyle for life on a farm in the Cherbourg Peninsula. Photo: DCEFF

This year’s festival, held in partnership with National Geographic, comes just six months after the United Nations released a sobering climate change report predicting that by 2040, greenhouse gases could increase earth’s temperatures by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and lead to natural disasters on a global scale, including a mass die-off of coral reefs, worsening food shortages and devastating droughts and wildfires.

While the findings alarmed conservationists and citizens worldwide, President Donald Trump has remained dismissive of the issue, ramping up attacks on his own government after it released a national climate assessment report in November showing that climate change could cost the U.S. billions of dollars in the near future.

Despite the divisive political debate over climate change, scientists have long concluded the man-made climate change not only exists, but is already fundamentally altering our planet, a dire phenomenon that EEF filmmakers portray in dramatic, thought-provoking fashion.

Some of the festival’s highlights include the opening-night film, “The River and the Wall,” a documentary by Ben Masters that follows five friends on an adventure through the wilds of the Texas border region, where the threat of a wall that would wreak havoc on the natural landscape looms large in the background.

Another centerpiece will be the D.C. premiere of “Sharkwater Extinction,” directed by Rob Stewart, which exposes the illegal shark fin industry across the world and the political corruption that drives it. This year, the festival will honor Stewart, who died at age 37 in a diving accident while filming the documentary, with its “Shared Earth Foundation Award for Advocacy.”

Afghanistan Ambassador Roya Rahmani
"Free Solo," the award-winning documentary from Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelvi, follows free soloist climber, Alex Honnold, as he prepares to climb El Capitan, a 3,000- foot rock in Yosemite National Park. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, in 2019. Photo: DCEFF

Other highlights include: “Lost World,” a 16-minute short that follows a woman on her quest to combat the disappearance of the Cambodian mangrove forests; “Hostile Planet,” a look inside the battle among animals to survive in the face growing wildfires; blizzards and downpours; “Last Glimpse,” about how the lowest-lying nation in the world, the Maldives, could become a modern-day Atlantis that sinks into the sea; “The Human Element,” which examines how everyday Americans are being affecting by changing weather patterns; “This Mountain Life,” which chronicles people for whom the draw of the mountains is so strong that their lives revolve around them; and “Mia and the Lion,” a heartfelt story about the friendship between a young girl and a while lion who trek across the South African savanna.

Many filmmakers will also be on hand throughout the festival, including Ben Masters, Alex Jablonski (“Wildland”), Andrew Nisker (“Ground War”) and Jilann Spitzmiller (“Meow Wolf: Origin Story”).

Head, who is now in his 11th year with the festival, is excited to share these and many other “versatile” films with diverse audiences.

Afghanistan Ambassador Roya Rahmani
“Lost World,” winner of the “Eric Moe Award for Best Short on Sustainability,” follows one woman’s relationship to her beloved home. The film, directed by Kalyanee Mam, showcases the threats to Cambodia’s mangrove forests. Photo: DCEFF

“There’s something about actually hearing it directly from the source, from the people who are being affected by these issues,” Head told the Diplomatic Pouch.

But one of the most exciting aspects of the festival for Head is the opportunity for attendees to interact with filmmakers and experts and ask what they can do.

“I find solace in the fact that every single film that you’re looking at represents a large group of people who care so passionately about an issue, that they’re working on something that will make them no money but help push that issue and get word out,” Head said. “There’s so much hope just in the fact that these people care.”

For a complete list of films and more information on the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, visit dceff.org.


Samantha Subin is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.



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