no. 26: Why should we watch environmental films?

The 30th Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital (DCEFF30) begins Thursday, March 17, 2022. Sydney Bollinger previews the festival and the importance of environmental filmmaking.

no. 26: Why should we watch environmental films?
Generation on Fire (2021) – Climate Connections Shorts I: Evidence & Advocacy

by Sydney Bollinger

The 30th Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital (DCEFF) kicks off today and runs through March 27. I’ll be covering the festival, so expect something new on Thursday Matinee everyday during the festival. The day-to-day festival coverage will not be part of a newsletter, so be sure to check back if you’re interested in what’s going on at DCEFF!

I first attended an environmental film festival in 2019. Each year the Roxy Theater in Missoula, MT, hosts the International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF), a film fest centered on wildlife, conservation, and climate change. It was this festival that first sparked my interest in environmental filmmaking, which has led to my Slay Away column Death Creeps and plans for a Thursday Matinee “Earth Month” this April.

Banner for the 42nd International Wildlife Film Festival

My interest in environmental filmmaking is a natural progression of my work as a climate activist, where my primary focus is climate storytelling through (creative and journalistic) writing, art, and performance. I’m a firm believer in story as an agent of change. Stories are accessible and personal — we all have one.

Environmental films — of all genres — put these stories on display, which is only more important as the climate crisis worsens due in part to inaction from political leaders and unrestricted capitalist growth. Our system has long been unsustainable and as we barrel toward imminent disaster, we need to find community, resilience, and growth, which often comes through sharing stories.

Environmental stories have been shared for a long time. Some of the oldest are in the form of creation myths. In Christianity, God said “let there be light” and created the plants and the animals. He created humans, too, tasking the first humans — Adam and Eve — with acting as “stewards” for Earth. The pair were the Great Caretakers, meant to protect their land as a divine body.

Overtime, the idea of stewardship in the Bible has morphed into a still-raging debate on whether or not Adam and Eve were actually given “dominion over” Earth. My opinion as an eco-spiritualist is that we were truly granted stewardship. We are responsible for the longevity at the earth, which means using and promoting sustainable, just practices. It’s no mistake that I said “just.” As stewards, our responsibility is not just to “nature,” but to the entirety of the world — humans included.

Black activists encourage Black people to vote in an election. One woman holds up a sign reading "Vote Today!"
Uniontown (2019) – Uniontown + The Sacrifice Zone

The climate crisis is a justice issue. Justice for people of color, who are more likely to be impacted by environmental racism. Justice for women and girls, who deserve (and require) reproductive health rights and equal access to education. Justice for Indigenous peoples, whose land has been stolen from them and then ravaged by colonizers who reject Traditional Knowledge in favor of unsustainable, unjust, and greed-driven land “management.” Justice for youth, who will inherit the future world and may have to pick up the pieces because of our inaction. Justice for the more-than-human world, whose consciousness is not any less important than our own.

Throughout DCEFF, we will have access to groundbreaking films addressing all facets of our current crisis. We will hear from leading climate filmmakers and activists about our path forward. I say we because you have the opportunity to attend the festival, too. The majority of the programming is free and available throughout the duration of the festival. If you want to jump in, even for one film, you can. Check out their programming and watch something during this year’s festival.

Watching a movie won’t change the world. Don’t Look Up doesn’t have value as an activism film unless it ignites its viewers to take action. Movies — and stories — can, however,  connect us to our communities and strengthen our resolve to reverse business as usual and establish an equitable future for all.

Watch along with me

Woman wearing a parka with face covering stands in frigid weather with mountains in the background
Exposure (2022)

I’ll be watching a number of films — documentaries, narratives, and shorts — and attending some panel discussions and Q&As.

Want to watch along with me? See below for a list of films I plan to screen during DCEFF30.

Free Feature-Length Film

Devil Put Coal in the Ground
Scenes from the Glittering World
We Rise for Our Land
Into the Dark
Going Circular

Breaking Trail
Fruits of Labor

Free Shorts Blocks

Narrative Shorts
Visionary Green Shorts
Climate Connections Shorts I: Evidence & Advocacy

Past Films Blocks

Uniontown + The Sacrifice Zone
The River + The  City

Free Panels & Talks

Food Justice
30th Anniversary Filmmaker Panel: Climate Change Through the Years
Indigenous Storytellers: Reclaiming the Narrative
DCEFF Environmental Champion: A Conversation with Dr. Jane Goodall