EarthDance Film Festival – Thursday Night

So there’s a pretty cool event happening tomorrow night… The 8th Annual EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival.  I should tell you right off the bat that it’s not actually in Oakland (rather Berkeley), but I am writing about it for a few reasons…

For starters, its founder Zakary Zide is an Oakland resident.  He worked at the Oakland Museum of Art for years and it was during this time, and through the museum’s support, that the festival originated.  Plus one of the films included this year is Oakland’s own homespun documentary “Scrapertown” about the Scraper Bike movement in Oakland.

Having established the festival’s proper Oaktown street-cred, what’s more important is that this event is cool, thought-provoking, inspiring, entertaining, and fun! You can read more about it in my interview with Zakary, below photo.  In the meantime, here are the details:

EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival
2011 Official Selections (PG-13)
9 films, 90 minutes.

A serious and light-hearted exploration of nature, culture and environmental design.
Featuring an eclectic collection of comedies, documentaries, adventures and animations, films range in length from 3 – 30 minutes.
Short is Sweet.

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
7pm and 9pm (two screenings, same films for both)

24/7  ticket hotline:  800-838-3006
On-line:  BrownPaperTickets

The David Brower Center
2150 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA 94610
(map here)

photo by Rus Anson

Hi Zakary,

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about your 8th Annual EarthDance Film Festival, screening tomorrow night at the David Brower Center in Berkeley.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen several of the previous incarnations of this festival, even back to its early days when it was screened at the Oakland Museum of California.  Can you talk about its genesis?  How you came up with the idea?  And the involvement of OMCA towards that end?

It’s great that you’ve experience our collection!  Thanks for following our event!

I started the EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival in 2004 for 4 reasons:

  1. I wanted to demonstrate that stories about the environment aren’t always political and aren’t always gloomy and doomy…the natural world is full of humor, quirky characters (the praying mantis – come on!) and inspiration.  My friends, colleagues and I weren’t seeing the kind of environmental stories that we could relate to.  Most things being produced at the time were either of the Croc Hunter variety or predictable to the point of being annoying.
  2. To provide a container for people to come together; a venue for people to share their stories and multi-media explorations of their relationships with the natural world.  Environmental films aren’t just for eco-freaks.  We all have a relationship to the natural world; even if we’re only talking about an ant invasion in your kitchen. How you deal with the ants, that’s the interesting bit.
  3. To help create a ‘culture of nature’ and raise money for environmental issues.
  4. To inspire and be inspired to take action.

I was working at the Oakland Museum at the time. I presented the idea to the powers that be and eventually got funding for a “pilot” year. The goal, among those above, was to help the museum with new audience development.  Fortunately, EarthDance did what we had hoped.  The Film Fest bolstered museum membership. And existing members were happy to have something new to get excited about.  As a result, I got more funding to keep the project alive.  I’ve since left the museum, but thankfully they have remained supportive.

Were there other environmental film festivals that served as examples?  Of either what to do, or what not to do?  (You don’t have to name names).

There were a few, but we were one of the first environmental film fests.  Now it seems that everyone and their uncle has a film fest. I should really talk to my uncle about starting another one.

I believe the festival’s been referred to as “eco-tainment”.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

People like good stories, for good reason.  I’m not a fan of sensationalism, but I do appreciate an entertaining story that has a meaningful message.  I think this explains the popularity of such films as Super Size Me, and Michael Moore’s documentaries.  In this way, I don’t think one should have to sacrifice entertainment for ecology.

I think too many TV shows and films with important messages to tell get caught up in a scripted narrative, or else frighten or bore their audiences to death.  There are so many different ways that people relate to the natural world – from the hunter to the vegetarian.  I’m interested in telling everyone’s story.

What I love about the films I’ve seen in years past, is the enormous variety of subject matter & film styles.  Everything from 30 second shorts filmed under a scientific microscope, to 30 minute long foreign animated films, short documentaries following eco-warriors, and so much more.  There’s really something for everyone.  And typically lots of laughter.  Can you talk a bit about your process of selecting films for inclusion?

I’m glad to hear your feedback on this!  This is exactly the kind of response that we try to elicit with our curation!

We intentionally cast a wide net.  This is another reason why I felt like the Short-Attention-Span nature of the film fest was essential – variety.  People’s time is short and as great of a film as Who Killed the Electric Car is, not everyone wants to sit through 90 minutes of one eco-themed story.  We wanted to include more people and expand the conversation.  We’ve found that people really appreciate our variety. We often hear that our collection is “not what we expected, and that’s a good thing.” Specifically we look for films that are passionate, provocative, and funny.  We look for personal stories that have not been told before; quirky, inspirational, and generally non-political.  And of course, they have to be 30 seconds to 30 minutes in length.

I know a particularly memorable one, both because it was hilarious, and also quite recent, was the short film “Spiders on Drugs.” Does each year consist of entirely new material?  Or do you carry over audience favorites from year to year?

Each year is a fresh collection. We do, however sell / lease compilation DVDs of all of our collections for both public and private screenings.  It’s probably time that we have a “Best of the Best” screening!

It seems a common perception problem with issues of conservation and/or sustainability is that it’s just not fun.  It’s like your mother nagging you to turn down the heat and put on a sweater instead.  You know it’s the right thing to do, but somehow it feels… what’s the word… um, burdensome.  Are you trying to change this perception?

Absolutely! A little sugar helps the medicine go down.  As one of our festival attendees put it, the environmental awareness of our fest hits you more like a fine wine vapor than a sledgehammer.  I think we go for the subtle and sublime as opposed to the guilt.

As an ecologist and educator myself, I learned first hand that facts and figures don’t often move people as much as a personal connection and the rich flavor and depth of the story.  We have found that if people can relate to the story that it’s easier to get inspired, and then they will take it upon themselves to take their interest and awareness to the next level.

We all know on some level that the environmental situation – our relationship to the natural world – is being tested and strained.  We don’t need more gloom and doom stories.  Now is the time for stories and meaningful media that reconnects us to the source of life – the very stuff of our spiritual, physical, and psychological sustenance.

Has your perception of the world, and our place in it, changed at all through your years of curating of the festival?

I think that more people are waking up to their relationship to the natural world, and that the economy is reflecting this.  Of course we have to be careful of greenwashing, but I think it’s great how many more eco-friendly products and designs are available today vs. 8 years ago when the festival first launched.  Green products and services can always be improved. But humans will always have an impact. We consume. Mitigating our consumption and giving people healthier choices is a step in the right direction.

What do you hope the festival’s viewers will experience?

Surprise, joy, inspiration, celebration and motivation to explore their relationship to the natural world.

I know there’s a question and answer period following each screening.  What’s the craziest question you’ve ever gotten?

Would I ever make love to a polar bear?

Hah!  Thanks again Zakary.  See you at the screening!

One thought on “EarthDance Film Festival – Thursday Night

  1. rattlebox333

    Congrats on this year’s festival, Zak. Can’t wait to experience it. See you on Thursday night.

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