We knew the transformative powers of nature and cinema. And that Portlanders love going to the movies. But many open questions hung in the air in 2013 as the Hollywood Theatre launched the Portland EcoFilm Festival.
Will people actually attend a great film about dirt?
What efforts will it take to fill a nearly-400-seat theater?
Can great films be used to strengthen environmental advocacy in our community?
Six years later, I feel confident that no matter what questions or challenges we face, the answer lies in our connections to each other. Portland’s environmental community includes beekeepers, biologists, water protectors, salmon worshipers, forest defenders, renewable energy advocates, seed savers, wildcrafters, river paddlers, mountain climbers, wildlife lovers, vegans, poets and zero-waste enthusiasts. The Portland EcoFilm Festival wants to serve and inspire them all – and others – by connecting environmentally minded people through the art of film.
Please join us this April 20-22 for film, community and thought-provoking conversation starters.
What can nature teach us about how to create a successful film festival?
At our first festival we screened Elemental, a film featuring biomimcry, the practice of looking to nature’s designs for inspiration and guidance when making new creations and solving problems. Nature designs ecosystems to thrive through diversity and interconnectivity. We’ve modeled our festival to allow audiences to find numerous ways to connect to subjects and people. We feature filmmaker talks, panel discussions, Q&As, and parties. Our events include partner organizations that offer opportunities for continued engagement after you leave the theater.
For example, our screening of Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, was co-hosted by Friends Of Trees. After the documentary about the founder of Kenyan’s Green Belt Movement, we signed up audience members to volunteer for upcoming tree plantings.
When screening Sunú, about Mexican farmers protecting ancient maize varieties, our event included music from singer/guitarist Edna Vazquez and advice for supporting Mexico’s native seed biodiversity (and free seed packets of maize) from the BioSafety Alliance.
And the arts team at the climate advocacy nonprofit 350PDX collaborated with us to create art made from recycled materials that graced our stage. After the festival wrapped, 350PDX mounted the art on poles and used it at climate marches. That’s the goal of the festival: to start a conversation inside a movie theater that is carried by people out into the public.
How can the films we show help our local community and environment to thrive?
Our festival loves to help filmmakers, community members and conservation organizations working for positive changes. We’ve hosted film screenings in support of the campaign “Yes On 100,” the ballot measure that outlawed wildlife trafficking of endangered species in Oregon. We highlighted the pro-hemp movement with Bringing It Home, months before growing hemp was legalized in Pacific Northwest states. And we’ve helped gather signatures for a campaign that the film DamNation created to breach the upper Snake River dams and restore salmon runs.
What programming choices can widen our circle of influence?
We like to program films that push the boundaries of what people think of as environmental films. The 1972 sci-fi classic Silent Running attracted cult film aficionados, who might not normally engage with eco films. At the neo-noir thriller Chinatown, we shared timely information about the City of Portland’s management of our water supply. Gaia, the Australian modern dance film about climate change, was a visceral force on our giant screen. And presenting The Epic of Everest, the original 1924 film footage shot during George Mallory and Andrew Irvine's fatal climb of Mount Everest, gave us a chance to reach both mountaineering enthusiasts and history buffs.
We showcase films about visionary people creating new ways and refining old ways of advocating for the natural world. We screened Unlocking The Cage, about Steven Wise, the attorney and founder of the NonHuman Rights Project, and his work to establish legal personhood rights for primates. Our event featured a discussion with Wise and the Academy and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker team Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker. When we showed This Changes Everything, our sold-out crowd expressed support for author/film producer Naomi Klein’s work exploring how capitalism is a stacked deck against a healthy environment.
The winner of our 2017 Best Feature Film Award was filmmaker Keri Pickett’s First Daughter and The Black Snake. The film’s subject, Anishinaabe author, economist, activist and former vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, won our annual EcoHero Award. LaDuke and Pickett graced our stage and joined the party afterward to discuss the Anishinaabe people’s opposition to oil pipelines that threaten their lands, waterways and sacred rice fields. For myself and our audience of climate advocates and indigenous community members, this evening marked a high point in our festival’s history.
How can The Portland EcoFilm Festival increase our biodiversity and nurture new conversations in 2018?
Strong community support has inspired us to expand by offering two weekends of film every year: an Earth Day weekend celebration each April and a traditional four-day festival each September.
This April 20–22, we’ll be showing films to appeal to many aesthetics. Included will be the 1982 groundbreaking eco-film Koyaanisqatsi, a wordless visual feast scored by composer Phillip Glass. We'll also screen the local premiere of Portland filmmaker Lindsey Grayzel’s The Reluctant Radical, about “valve-turner” Ken Ward, one of five climate activists who committed civil disobedience by shutting off the Canadian tar sands oil pipelines coming into the U.S. Grayzel, Ward and other valve-turners will be in attendance, and we’ll celebrate their bravery at a party after the screening.
Oregon Wild and Soul River will join us for a panel discussion on the relationship between social justice, public lands and the environment. And Friends Of Portland Community Gardens will co-host Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, a gorgeous film profiling the world-famous Dutch landscape designer.
Moving into our sixth year, we remain focused on presenting the finest works of cinema, inspiring voices, and becoming a hub for connecting people sharing a deep appreciation of the natural world. For more information on the festival, visit www.portlandecofilmfest.org and sign up for our email list.