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Film Festival Explores Variety of Earth Concerns

April 20, 2012

By Marianne Comfort

Attending the annual Environmental Film Festival in the nations’ capital is a wonderful way to get a smattering of education on a wide range of Earth-centered concerns. This year I learned about the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, the controversy over wind power off Cape Cod, the life of children migrant workers in the U.S., the danger of melting glaciers in the Himalyas and so much more.

Opening night featured a screening of Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmental, social and political activist who won the Nobel Prize in 2004. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to encourage tree-planting to protect the soil and provide wood for women to use for cooking and building, The story of Maathai, who died just a few months ago, is incredibly inspiring as she connected environmental sustainability with human rights and democracy building. One of her feats was convincing foreign investors to withdraw financing for a modern building complex that would have replaced one of Nairobi’s main parks open to all people. In the film she also speaks of the importance of maintaining local culture and the value of trees and animals for their own sake, not for their monetary value.

Among the other films I viewed over the next 12 days were:

Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle. A quirky film that portrays the controversy over the proposal for a major wind farm in the middle of Nantucket Sound. Both sides are clearly “spinning” the truth to make points for or against the project; one group opposes the wind farm out of concern for the local environment and the role of a large corporation planning the project, while the other supports the larger vision of creating energy alternatives to fossil fuels. The audience hears pleas from residents of areas of West Virginia devastated by mountaintop coal removal and the concerns of native Americans who claim a spiritual connection to unobstructed views over the water. Amidst it all, a “third way” is introduced: small, local wind power projects that meet the needs of their communities.

The Harvest: The Story of the Children who Feed America tells the story of three young people who travel around the U.S., with their migrant-worker families. Aged 12, 14 and 16, they started working in the fields as young as 8. Victor, the oldest, had dropped out of school; Zulema and Perla were still trying to continue their education despite frequent moves that disrupted their studies. There were tearful goodbyes to friends near the end of a school year when classmates were planning leisurely summers but they were bound for work further north. There were family illnesses, and injuries that left parents unable to work and provide an income.

86 Centimeters is a shorter film that depicts the heroic effort of farmers, students and workers to limit the effect of melting glaciers in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. They dug a drainage system by hand to lower the level of a glacier lake whose walls were weakened by melting ice. If the lake wall were to boost, the resulting flooding would endanger communities and fertile arable land. The Yak Herder’s Son followed a photographer as he befriended a family following the traditional life high in the mountains.

Students at American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking and at George Washington University’s Documentary Center showcased some short films shot in D.C. and Maryland. The Capital Buzz shows how urban beekeepers are helping to sustain the threatened honeybee population; Talking Trash in Baltimore focuses on inner-city youth learning about pollution in Baltimore Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay; From Fryer to Fuel provides a tour of the Green Light Biofuels Company that converts vegetable oil into biofuel for cars.

The festival concluded with A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet, a look at the evolution of the environmental movement from conservation to eco-justice to efforts to save whales and the Amazonian rainforest. It concludes with a look at the grassroots movements trying to address climate change.

Descriptions of the other more than 150 films in the festival are available online. There are sure to be some titles worth looking for in your own community theaters, libraries and DVD outlets.

The Sisters of Mercy believe that all creation is God’s gift and that we live on our home, Earth, with reverence and responsible care. Learn more about our commitment to protecting our home.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

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