This week marks the return of the Environmental Film Festival, the country's largest and longest-running festival dedicated to the genre. Over 60 filmmakers will gather in Washington, D.C., to screen, discuss and celebrate more than 160 films covering everything from species extinction to factory farming to the wonders of nature. This year's theme, Climate Connections, will also explore "the pervasive impact of climate change on our planet" through 40 films and events.
Below are seven films being shown at this year's EFF that you won't want to miss. You can view the full schedule at the official site.
1. 'Racing Extinction'
I managed to see an early release of director Louie Psihoyos' follow-up to his 2009 Oscar-winner "The Cove," and I can tell you that it has definitely been worth the wait. While the topic of mass extinction is much broader in scope, Psihoyos and his team of investigators expertly craft a story that not only informs but also pulls at the heartstrings. From the high-tech gadgets to the tense moments undercover, "Racing Extinction" delivers as one this year's best eco-thrillers.
Ron Naveen and his team of field biologists have been keeping track of penguin populations in Antarctica for more than 20 years. What they've learned from colonies that are doing well — and those that are collapsing — is a cautionary tale that shows first-hand the impacts of a warming planet.
In a Reddit AMA from 2013, Naveen gave some detail into what a typical day looks like: "At a place like Petermann Island, which is about a mile long and a half-a-mile wide, it will take two of our best counters at least 4-6 hours in decent weather to count the entire island which has about 2,400 gentoo penguin nests and 450 Adélie penguin nests. The huge Baily Head chinstrap penguin colony at Deception Island had more than 50,000 nests and took us two days to count.
Featuring commentary by activists, scientists and many other notables, "The Wisdom to Survive" focuses on economic growth, consumerism, and greed as the biggest obstacles to mankind's ability to tackle climate change. A review last fall by Spirituality and Practice called it "by far, the best and most inspiring, enlightening, and creative social-issue documentary on climate change."
4. 'Bikes vs Cars'
In 2010, an estimated 1 billion motor vehicles were on the road worldwide. By 2020, that number is predicted to double, a trend that will have serious ramifications for humanity and the planet. Filmmaker Fredrik Gertten believes we already have the answer to avoiding such a fate: the humble bicycle.
"I’ve traveled the world wondering why there is so little space for bikes, why it's so dangerous when it's so much more fun to explore a city by bike." he wrote in a successful $82,000 Kickstarter for the film. "The car model as we know it has reached an extreme level with constant gridlock and millions of productive hours lost. The frustration is growing and cities need to look into new models."
The film follows both sides of the battle — from biking activists seeking change to the auto dealers, car manufacturers and oil lobbyists hoping to keep people behind the wheel. "It’s a conflict that interests me, and that is why I’ve decided to take on this project," Gertten says. "A project of passion."
5. 'Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret'
One of my favorites from last year, "Cowspiracy" is a brilliant piece of documentary filmmaking that spotlights the animal agriculture industry's destructive impact on the planet — and the environmental organizations "too afraid to talk about it." In an interview with Ecorazzi, Andersen said organizations like Greenpeace and Sierra Club need to be held accountable for not doing more to address the issue.
"We look to them to share the truth with us, that animal agriculture is the number one leading cause of [environmental degradation]," he said. "This needs to be the number one cause they showcase. We’re not looking to the animal agriculture industry to make changes. It’s the environmental groups that have the power to effect true change, to address the biggest [problem]. They need to be proactive."
Award-winning filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson gives us this stunning look at the monsoon weather phenomenon that impacts the Indian subcontinent each year. Filmed over the course of the 2013 rainy season, "Monsoon" is not only visually stunning (captured in breathtaking ultra high-def 4K), but also enlightening in its humanity, giving us glimpses into the lives of those whose fortunes rise and fall based on the annual rains.
"Monsoon is a film that was waiting to be made," says a review in The Hollywood Reporter. "A great subject, a vast scale (all over India), dramatic cinematography and even a bit of humor regarding the timid weather bureaucracy and a henna-haired odds-maker who bets on the rain."
7. 'Seeds of Time'
"Seeds of Time" follows American agriculturist Cary Fowler and his efforts to protect our food crops from an uncertain future. Fowler was instrumental in the development of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a $9 million facility located in a remote Arctic archipelago that houses more than 783,000 distinct crop varieties. But this insurance policy is only a piece of the puzzle, and with climate change and monoculture threatening genetic diversity, the global food system is more fragile than ever before.
"I thought that I was relatively well-informed on the subject of food and agriculture, but as I delved into the material, I quickly realized that agriculture was up against tremendous pressures in ways that I knew almost nothing about," director Sandy McLeod said in an interview with Filmmaker magazine. "I also realized that it was really fundamental information to any intelligent conversation about food security and sustainable agriculture. And we need to be having more of those conversations."
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