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The New Climate Action Film Festival Focuses on Solutions


A scene in "Rise: From One Island to Another" - COURTESY OF SUNCOMMON
  • Courtesy Of Suncommon
  • A scene in "Rise: From One Island to Another"

Greenland's ice sheet lost 3.8 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2018, according to a satellite-based study by NASA and the European Space Agency. When Hawaii-based director Dan Lin was filming on a remote Greenlandic glacier during the summer of 2018, he could literally hear it melting beneath his feet.

"Early in the morning or mid-morning it's kind of a trickle, and then throughout the day, as the sun warms up, it just rushes and gushes," Lin says in a phone interview. "It's so much water flowing down past you and then through these glacial tunnels and out into the ocean. And you just know that every bit of freshwater there is adding to the sea."

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In Lin's documentary short "Rise: From One Island to Another," two indigenous poets from the Marshall Islands and Greenland meet atop a receding glacier. Together they recite a collaborative poem urging solidarity to combat rising sea levels caused by climate change. The film was the brainchild of Vermont author and climate activist Bill McKibben, whose environmental organization funded the project.

"Rise" is one of nine shorts in the Climate Action Film Festival, which premieres Thursday, February 6, at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington. The fest was curated by Waterbury-based solar-energy company SunCommon, with a focus on "solutions, rather than just the impacts of climate change," according to CAFF creative director Patrick McCormack. CAFF will also appear at Middlebury's Marquis Theatre on February 12 and will travel to Rhinebeck and Woodstock, N.Y.

"We recognize that the crisis that we're facing with the climate right now is sort of beyond our individual voice," McCormack says, "and so the goal was to bring together a lot of other voices around the climate crisis — specifically through the lens of climate action — to help inspire others to get involved with the movement."

McCormack, whose job title at SunCommon is "storyteller," notes that the company received some 225 submissions for the festival. He and copresident/curator Duane Peterson III* narrowed down the entries, and a committee voted on them. The final lineup mixes docs about environmental activism with issue-specific films, as well as broader calls to action to prevent climate breakdown.

In "#NatureNow," then 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg asks viewers to consider how their daily actions impact the planet. Speaking calmly but forcefully, with her piercing eyes staring directly into the camera, the 2019 Time Person of the Year implores: "Everything counts. What you do counts."

Two selections put the concept of carbon pollution in layman's terms. "Keeping Carbon," from Hudson Valley filmmaker Jon Bowermaster, examines regenerative farming techniques, which aim to store as much carbon in the soil as possible. Its maritime counterpart, "Blue Carbon," finds that by restoring the Snohomish River estuary in Washington's Puget Sound, nine million tons of carbon dioxide would be prevented from entering the atmosphere over the next 100 years.

Several of the films in the fest deal directly with political protest. "Valve Turners" documents a 2016 guerrilla mission to shut down pipelines in four states carrying Canadian oil sands into the U.S. Approximately 2.8 million barrels of oil were halted that day — roughly equivalent to 15 percent of daily U.S. oil consumption, according to the documentary.

North of the border, "Water Warriors" chronicles the combined efforts of First Nations and white citizens in New Brunswick to prevent hydraulic fracturing by SWN Resources, a subsidiary of Texas-based natural-gas company Southwestern Energy. Their extended sit-in on land seized by the corporation led to violent clashes with Royal Canadian Mounted Police forces. The highly publicized protests ultimately contributed to the establishment of a moratorium on natural-gas fracking in the province.

A less extreme form of activism is displayed in "Words Have Power." The six-minute short profiles an asthmatic 13-year-old black girl from Bridgeport, Conn., whose speeches in the community helped spur the planned retirement of the state's last remaining coal-fired power plant by 2021. The film probes issues of environmental racism and how the health impacts of fossil-fuel-based pollution tend to more acutely impact lower-income communities.

"I love this growing idea that you don't have to call yourself an activist, but, as a citizen, we're all obligated to go beyond just voting and making our voices heard," McCormack says. "So there's a lot of different ways to do that, and I think what the Climate Action Film Festival is doing is showing you that range."

Assessing the festival program as a whole, McCormack hopes that the varied lineup will motivate moviegoers to address the climate crisis on a personal level.

"We want to give [audiences] a holistic view of what climate action means ... and where it's headed, and how they can get involved," he says. "So I think the key is to inspire action and to have people understand, as Greta [Thunberg] says, 'No one is too small to make a difference.'"

*Correction February 1, 2020: The original version of this story misidentified the copresident of SunCommon and curator of the Climate Action Film Festival. He is Duane Peterson III.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Action Movies | New film festival showcases solutions to the climate crisis"