Green film festival aims to empower, not depress
The Green Film Festival aims to send audiences away feeling empowered and positive, rather than guilty or depressed, says director Dan Beck.
This year’s festival on 1-8 June has 17 films, up from 12 last year, and Beck says there are “hugely ambitious plans” for 2014, including the creation of a hub for local activity on environmental issues.
Beck answers questions put by OneWorld’s Daniel Nelson:
Why a Green Film Festival? Aren't films on environmental issues - especially documentaries - a niche market, and aren't audiences going to be converts to the cause already?
In my view films on environmental issues are the opposite of niche. As more and more people become aware that our environment is no longer a concern for the few, the appetite for art and films that address and explore environmental concerns grows.
I think people generally are much more aware of these matters and you only have to look at the work of organisations like Friends of the Earth, who have worked tirelessly to promote solutions to environmental problems, to see the impact this change in thinking has had on our everyday lives. Recycling, energy saving, and the growth in popularity of organic and ethically produced food products are shining examples of this.
One stereotype that feels outdated is that environmental issues remain the haunt of sandal-wearing, bearded eco-hippies! The UK Green Film Festival acts as a platform to explore issues that face us all both now and in the future, though a universally enjoyable and accessible medium that has the power to connect us closely to the larger world around us.
It’s worth also mentioning that our films are all very different to one another, the documentaries take different approaches both in their style and tone and the programme also features two blends of drama and non-fiction. Having a diverse programme with something for everyone is very important to us.
What do you hope to achieve with the Festival?
Helping to build a better understanding of local and global environmental issues is obviously a huge motivating factor behind the festival and we want to get people thinking, talking and acting on what they see.
However, we're equally committed to providing a wider platform for these fantastic films and raising the profile of a growing number of filmmakers dealing with environmental issues. The UKGFF team are all film lovers and each of us has been touched by the films in this year’s edition and we're confident that others will be, too.
What is the basis for selecting films: A good film, or an issue you consider important?
We always look first at the quality of the film first and every film in our 2013 programme shows great craft in its own right. Peak and More Than Honey are two examples from this year’s programme which aside from anything else are cinematically incredible and genuinely rank among some of the most beautifully shot films I've seen.
We don't really approach programming with an agenda in terms of the issues we feel should be 'covered off’, but there are obviously many global problems that prove popular among filmmakers because of their urgency or impact.
Essentially, we look for films that aren't going to bombard people with statistics. We don't want our audience to leave the cinema feeling guilty or depressed but rather empowered and positive, and this can only be achieved through great films dealing with important issues in positive and unique ways.
Which Green docs have been particularly influential, in contributing to policy change or spreading awareness?
What a great question! It’s very hard for a film to influence policy quickly, as policies can take a while to be changed. However, the accumulating campaigning as the result a film’s release can do this. Two good examples are An Inconvenient Truth and Franny Armstrong’s The Age of Stupid.
Is the Festival growing?
This is our third year, we started in 2011 with five cinemas and we've grown from 12 in 2012 to 17 this year. We're hugely grateful for the dedicated support of all our screening partners, each of them fantastic, independently-run UK cinemas. Next year we're hoping to find at least another screen in the north-west and Northern Ireland, but we're very happy with our growth so far.
Obviously we want to get our films out to as many people as possible and we're always amazed by the amount of requests we get for screenings in cities and town all across the UK, so there's definitely the demand out there.
Are you planning new directions for the Festival?
Absolutely! We've got some hugely ambitious plans for the festival in 2014, which could include a big open-air event over the course of our opening weekend. We're also looking for more ways to connect local communities with their cinemas and help create a hub for local activity around environmental issues.
What environmental issues do you consider priorities?
Personally, I don't consider one environmental issue more or less important than another. There are many much larger environmental organisations that are in a far better position than us to make those kinds of decisions.
I've said previously that we don't really have an agenda when choosing our films, and in many ways that choice is one for the filmmaker rather than the festival programmer. Our goal is to seek out those filmmakers who have taken on an issue in a unique, entertaining and inspiring way.
Is it hard to find films on some of your priority issues? Climate change, for example?
Climate change is obviously a huge environmental issue that is an extremely popular subject among filmmakers and has been the subject of some of the most successful green films ever. It's not difficult to find films dealing with these issues, but it can sometimes be difficult to find films that take an alternate look at subjects that most people already feel they know something about.
Our approach with subjects like climate change is to try to find an alternative perspective to these problems that most people are already aware of in some way. That's where Peak in this year’s programme comes in to its own. The director, Hennes Lang, looks at climate change through the lens of a popular ski resort's desperate attempts to cope with the accelerating retreat of the glacier both it and the local communities rely on for their livelihoods.
In your experience, what sort of (Green) films are the most popular with audiences?
Our most popular film last year was a film called Happy, which took a close personal look at what makes people happy all over the world. It's a really beautiful film and forces us all to take a look at our own lives to determine what is really important.
Great films always have that ability to connect with us on a personal level, whether it's through fantasy, fact, humour or tragedy, and it's the same for green films.
What are your favourites in this year's festival?
I'm going to have to apologise for appearing to be sitting on the fence here, but I have a close connection to all of the films in our programme. I'm amazed by the craft shown in More Than Honey and Peak, both films deal with the delicacy of their subject matter with unique subtlety. Valley of Saints brings us closer to our local environment and our dependency on it: it reminds us that our home is made up of more than bricks and mortar and that we should be doing everything we can to protect it and the ones we love. Trashed deals with the issue of waste in impressive detail and with great skill, while Solar Taxi shows how much one individual can do with a dream, and Big Boys Gone Bananas!* reminds us how important it is to stand up for what we believe in against all odds.
The programme works so well as a whole, I would strongly recommend all of them.
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