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Top 5 Films to See During the Environmental Film Festival

Top 5 Films

 Written by Kate Arion

It’s that time of year again! March 15th kicks off the 26th Annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital (or as we fondly refer to it, EFF). With so many environmental groups based in D.C., all working toward the grander goal of protecting our Earth, we think this local film festival is a great way for the general public to learn more about the environment, our impacts upon it, and how we can protect it. EFF shows more than one hundred films over a two-week period, ranging in topics from climate change to environmental justice to the incredible beauty of nature. This year’s theme is “Stories from the Frontlines,” and many of the films will focus on the people who are taking risks up-close-and-personal to preserve our environment and the pioneers whose innovations could significantly influence our planet’s future for the better.

With so many films featuring a variety of subjects, and screenings shown all around the city, there’s something for everyone. But we can’t possibly see them all. So here are my top five picks for this year’s festival.


The Last Animals

March 15, 7:00 PM, National Geographic Society

This is the kick-off film for the 2018 festival, and it’s the D.C. premiere for this incredible documentary. The Last Animals is a story about saving elephants and rhinos from extinction in their native Africa. Today, there are fewer than half-a-million African elephants in the wild, and rhinoceroses do not even reach 30,000 in Africa (northern white rhinos are sadly in the single digits). This film, directed by renowned photographer Kate Brooks, highlights the scientists, conservationists, park rangers, and activists who are fighting against poaching and trafficking to protect these amazing animals. With the help of these dedicated people, and impactful storytelling like this film, we may be able to save these magnificent creatures so that our children and future generations can see them in their natural habitat for years to come.

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The Colorado

March 18, 7:30 PM, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

For another D.C. premiere, visit the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to see the new eco-documentary,The Coloradocreated by filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu. Follow the narration of Academy Award® - winner Sir Mark Rylance (from Bridge of Spies) as the film explores the history and ecology of the Colorado River Basin, as well as connects with the people and communities who depend on this famous water source. What makes this film exceptional is the score, commissioned from five different composers: Paola PrestiniShara NovaBill BrittelleGlenn Kotche, and Pulitzer Prize laureate John Luther Adams. Travel through time as the music moves you along prehistoric settlements, controversial dam-building, impacts from agriculture, and other aspects that make up the character of the Colorado. Not only will you see amazing footage of this beautiful landscape, but you will also experience live performances by Grammy®-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth (a group which includes the film’s composers), cellist Jeffrey Ziegler, and percussionist Andy Meyerson (of The Living Earth Show) as they play music to match the spectacular visuals.

After the movie, make sure to stay for a panel discussion to hear from the film director, one of the composers, and representatives from EFF, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and D.C. Greens. The group will discuss the connections between nature and society, mirroring the film’s intertwinement of natural and man-made elements. 

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March 16, 6:30 PM, Japan Information and Culture Center, Embassy of Japan

March is not only the time for EFF, but it’s also Women’s History Month. And while we usually focus on American women, the film Ama-San is perfect for celebrating the “women of the sea” in Japan (as well as the film’s female director, Cláudia Varejão). Discover an ancient tradition more than 2,000 years old as women, mostly between the ages of 50-85, dive to great depths without any equipment to look for pearls and more importantly abalones, a seafood staple for the local community. The film follows three generations of these fisherwomen as they perform mysterious yet exquisite rituals for the task at hand. Ama-San’s theme of femininity shows the dichotomy between the idealized beauty and fragility of women and the role these strong fisherwomen play as key providers, a commonly male position. Along those same lines, there is a juxtaposition of images showing the grace and silence of the underwater world next to the bleak reality of modernization destroying this cultural history forever. This film utilizes a unique perspective to portray the inextricable link between people and their environment.

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The Chocolate Case

March 22, 6:00 PM, Royal Netherlands Embassy

Most of us love chocolate, a delicacy made from cocoa beans grown in the equatorial belt of the world. What you may not know is that slavery and child labor play a large part in creating the nearly $100 billion chocolate industry. The Chocolate Case shows the excursion of several journalists who discover the darker side of chocolate, and attempt to protest these hidden wrongs. The documentary combines archived, on-the-ground footage with new film material to shed light on this important issue, while at the same time integrating comic relief and fun moments to keep the film from being too disheartening. While the protestors could not stop the biggest candy companies from continuing as usual, there is a silver lining to this story. Tony’s Chocolonely is a slave-free chocolate bar, and is now one of the top-selling chocolate bars in the Netherlands. The film brilliantly raises awareness about this obscure injustice while promoting hope for a sweeter future.

Hot Grease

March 17, 2:00 PM, E Street Cinema

The world is facing an energy crisis, especially when it comes to using fossil fuels instead of switching to renewable energy sources like solar or wind. But what about using kitchen grease for fuel? Hot Grease, which premiered last fall as a television show on Discovery, is now a full-fledged film directed by  Sam Wainwright Douglas. The story is set in Houston, Texas, a city known for its oil industry, but the film focuses on the biodiesel business instead. Watch as we see spent kitchen grease, something usually viewed as worthless waste, turned into a fuel that could potentially power all the trucks, ships, and trains in the United States. The film highlights the main players in this endeavor, from entrepreneurs and innovators to the very people collecting the grease, all of them trying to spread the word about this new fuel that could compete with today’s gasoline and diesel. Audiences will see how this everyday grease is really the ultimate green gold of the future.


The Finale:

As you can see from this short list alone, the collection of films shown at this festival are eclectic and quite diverse. Whatever your own personal passion is for the environment, whether its food sourcing or energy resources or wildlife conservation (or anything else!), EFF has a film in mind just for you. “Think globally, act locally” is the perfect way to describe what EFF and groups like Rock Creek Conservancy want you to take away from this film festival: find out more about any and all of these important issues, and apply what you’ve learned to become an advocate and help make Earth a better place for all of us.

 Written by Kate Arion





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