Film festival confronts environmental issues

FEBRUARY 10, 2013

The third annual RVA Environmental Film Festival invited environmental activists to learn more about the issues that they hold dear.

Last weekend, the historic Byrd Theater in Carytown screened several documentaries focused on environmental issues ranging from global warming and overconsumption to nuclear energy. The main part of the festival was held on Saturday, with several films shown over eight hours. The event was open to the public and films were shown back-to-back as a marathon.

Scott Burger, the political chair of the Falls of the James chapter of the Sierra Club, helped organize the event. He said he felt that Richmond needed to become more environmentally aware and hoped the festival would highlight the issue.

“Richmond has always been interested in film over the years, and it made sense to bring in a lot of ideas together, especially a lot of ideas from the outside that might not get a lot of coverage from the press,” Burger said.

The festival opened on Saturday with “Mother Nature’s Child,” a short documentary detailing how nature plays a role in the education and development of children. The film was followed by a documentary called “The Clean Bin Project,” about a Canadian couple who made a challenge to spend a year living without making any waste.

Burger said the festival tends to choose films that are more likely to draw people’s interest towards them. In the past, they have shown films he said “go for the jugular,” such as “The Cove,” the 2009 Academy Award winning documentary about dolphin hunting in Japan.

After a series of short local films, the next film shown was “Bending Sticks,” a documentary following the artistic process of artist Patrick Dougherty. Dougherty is known for making elaborate sculptures out of sticks he finds in the woods, and the film shows how he created several of his sculptures.

Penelope Maunsell, the co-director of “Bending Sticks,” appeared at the festival for a brief question and answer session about the film along with executive producer Frank Konhaus. She revealed that the festival was the second time “Bending Sticks” was shown anywhere, having been released in Durham, N.C. in December.

“People want there to be a statue left in the town square,” Konhaus said about the ephemeral nature of Dougherty’s work. “A lot of the work is about the process of the work and not really about having a finished product. I think that makes for a more fascinating aspect of the work.”

Other films included “Vegucated,” which follows three New Yorkers who adopt a vegan diet for six weeks, and “The Atomic States of America,” a documentary focused on the hazardous effects of nuclear energy and events like Three Mile Island and the Fukushima-Daichi Meltdown. Burger said he found it the most topical film at the festival because of the nuclear energy debates set to occur this year.

The final film for the evening was “Chasing Ice,” a documentary nominated for two Academy Awards this year. Before the film, Glen Besa, director of the Virginia State Chapter of the Sierra Club, gave a brief introduction to the film.

“It is real evidence,” he said. “There is physical evidence that global warming is real. We need to talk to people who don’t know.”

The festival continued Sunday with several more features, including the bee-centered film “Queen of the Sun” and the docudrama “The Age of Stupid.” Burger hopes to continue the festival for the next few years, perhaps expanding the film to more theaters and with more feature films.

This article was originally featured in The Commonwealth Times.

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