March 20, 2013

EcoFocus Film Festival

Five Days of Eco-Conscious Entertainment

Photo Credit: Adam LeWinter

The documentary Chasing Ice will screen at Ciné on Thursday, Mar. 21.

It's that time of year again when the EcoFocus Film Festival offers up a diverse mix of shorts and features that entertain while opening our eyes to our relationship with the environment. This is the fifth annual event, and it starts Wednesday, Mar. 20 at UGA's Miller Learning Center (room 101) with a free screening of Switch, directed by Harry Lynch. The documentary examines our dependence on the oil and coal industries and how it is imperative that we make the transition to more sustainable alternative energy production. Easier said than done, of course, but the documentary doesn't shy away from the hard decisions we face. There will be a short discussion about this dilemma after the screening, as well as free snacks and beverages. 

On Thursday, Mar. 21, the festival officially kicks into high gear with an opening night reception at Ciné and a showing of the award-winning movie Chasing Ice. Directed by Jeff Orlowski, the documentary follows National Geographic photographer James Balog into the harsh majestic landscape of the Arctic. Balog chronicles the startling disappearance of the mammoth ice glaciers over the last decade. Balog was initially skeptical of climate change theories, but viewing firsthand how quickly the glaciers melted changed his view on the subject. Chasing Ice is visually extraordinary and haunting, but it also offers up serious discussion regarding this troubling event that is affecting us all. After the screening, there will be a panel talk featuring Adam LeWinter, a member of Balog's Extreme Ice Survey team. Food will also be supplied courtesy of The National.  

While Chasing Ice is a fantastic choice to get the EcoFocus festival in motion, there are plenty of other interesting movies to view over the next four days. Here are a few titles that you may want to check out. 

Tony Donoghue's delightful short Irish Folk Furniture plays on Friday, Mar. 22 at 3 p.m. It caused quite a sensation at this year's Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the prize for Best Animation. Donoghue looks at the complex and sometimes very funny relationship between rural Irish people and their furniture, letting the owners talk about the rich history of their otherwise humble belongings. Many Irish, especially during the Celtic Tiger boom, viewed old handmade furniture as an embarrassment, so these functional heirlooms have been stored away out of sight or abandoned. Donoghue shot the stop-motion movie on a cheap secondhand camera and used only natural light for environmental reasons.

Following Irish Folk Furniture, Andrew Garrison's Trash Dance looks at how choreographer Allison Orr devises a way to get 12 garbage truck drivers to help her orchestrate a modern dance piece of metal and grace. Many of the drivers are suspicious of Orr's plan and refuse to help. A large number of them are simply too involved with their families or working second jobs to devote precious time to Orr's dream. The 12 drivers that do join in, however, become part of something special indeed.

Later that night at 9:30 p.m., Dear Governor Cuomo will screen. Director Jon Bowermaster, with the supervision of documentarian Alex Gibney, chronicles how a group of musicians, actors and environmental scientists gather in Albany, NY to protest Governor Cuomo's desire to allow fracking in the state after a long ban of the highly controversial practice. Natalie Merchant, Joan Osborne, the Felice Brothers, Mark Ruffalo, Melissa Leo and many more, all appear in this spirited and informative documentary about a very troubling issue. There's plenty of great music in it, too. 

The horrible destruction from the massive earthquake and tsunami that befell Japan on Mar. 11, 2011 resonates still, particularly in the Sendai and Fukushima regions. Lucy Walker's The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, which plays at 1:30 p.m. as part of a double feature with The Lost Bird Project, does not flinch from the enormous tragedy and pain caused by the disaster. Footage of the destruction remains startling and terrible to watch. Walker, though, isn't interested in just showing devastation. She's interested in the healing process, simply and beautifully represented by the country's legendary cherry blossom season. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom was nominated for Best Documentary-Short Subject at the 2012 Academy Awards and won the Short Filmmaking Award and Special Jury Prize at Sundance. It's a beautiful work.

Closing night of the festival, Sunday, Mar. 24, will feature the United States premiere of The Human Scale at 7:15 p.m., showing with the short Living Tiny. In The Human Scale, director Andreas Dalsgaard explores how life in urban areas can be altered for the better for humans, as well as the environment. Architect Jan Gehl has spent much of his professional life studying how we live in cities, how we co-exist with others and how we travel through them. How can a city emphasize our humanity instead of crushing it?

Learning about our interaction with the environment doesn’t have to be dry, pedantic or depressing. As many of the movies in the festival show, entertainment can co-exist with education. You can see the full lineup of features and shorts at