As grim as world events can be, it is also true that people worldwide are making the planet better every day. You can learn all about them by watching the films being shown online and in-person at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC (DCEFF), now to March 27.
This year’s films run the gamut from short documentaries to full-length features that touch on everything from citizen activism to endangered species to the deep blue sea. Here’s a quick overview of what might make for particularly good viewing for a family with middle-school and high-school students:
“Camp Yoshi” This 10-minute movie showcases the camp chef Rashad Frazier set up when he and his family moved to Oregon and fell in love with the outdoors. Beautiful scenery from the Pacific Northwest is almost overshadowed by the scrumptious meals Chef Frazier cooks up over a fire in the middle of groups of tents. But Frazier’s mission is not just about cooking campside. “We’re trying to demystify what it means to get outside at eye level,” he says, adding “We focus on black folks. The goal is to get them outside, show them places they never knew existed,” and keep them motivated both by nature’s beauty and great food. “There’s a deeper connection to getting outdoors that speaks to the black narrative, ’cause that’s our ancestry,” he says. “That’s our gumbo!”
“Generation on Fire” (18 min) captures the climate marches made by two groups of young people in the summer of 2021 to demand good jobs and a Civilian Climate Corps to fight climate change. One group marched from New Orleans to Houston, the other from Paradise, CA to San Francisco. If you didn’t know about them before, you’ll get to know–and admire– them now.
“Finding Gulo”, “Growing Up Kiwi”, “The Jujurana’s Kingdom”, and “Turtles on the Hill” all showcase individual efforts to protect wolverines, the rare Haast tokoeka kiwi bird, the tragopan pheasant, and diamondback terrapins. Watch these shorts with an atlas or a globe handy. With these initiatives taking place from Washington State to New Zealand to India to Rhode Island, you’ll pack in some geography lessons, too.
If you have any kids who want to become adventurers and explorers, you’ll want to watch “Becoming Cousteau”. Using archival footage, the full-length documentary highlights Cousteau’s evolution from diver and inventor of SCUBA gear to environmental protector. “My films are no longer about beautiful little fish,” he says. “I try to convince people they have to do something” about protecting nature. “We have to enter the fight,” he declares, “because it’s the only way to protect what you love.”
Want more ocean? Dr. Sylvia Earle narrates “Ocean Odyssey,” a gorgeous 25-minute film that captures whales frolicking around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, along with penguins in Antarctica, seals, and clownfish your children may first have met when they watched “Finding Nemo.” An avid enviromental defender, Dr. Earle likens the ocean to “the blue heart of the planet,” with the currents like the veins and arteries. “For the first time, we’re beginning to understand how everything ties together an how vulnerable we are to any of piece of that that gets broken…the most important thing we extract from the ocean is our existence,” she reminds us.
And for an inspiring vision of how people are fighting climate change, don’t miss “We The Power.” This 38-minute film chronicles local cooperatives from Germany’s Black Forest to the streets of Spanish cities to London’s urban rooftops as they “pave the way for a renewable-energy revolution” and build healthier, more economically stable communities. “In the beginning, it was a lonely fight, and we were only a handful of people,” notes one of the film’s activists. “We were far outnumbered by the armies of the energy companies.” Undeterred, another says, “There are two forms of energy. You have electrical energy, and you have human energy. And that (human energy) can blast through anything…I strongly believe that we can take control of the energy production of the future.”
Go to DCEFF for a complete schedule and descriptions of all films. Note that most films can be watched between now and March 27 for free. Some films will also be shown in an encore Earth Day presentation later in April.