January 29, 2014

5,000 Visitors Expected When Princeton Environmental Film Festival Opens Thursday

The eighth annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival (PEFF) opens this Thursday, January 30 at 7 p.m. with Thin Ice: The Inside Story of Climate Science, a film that was prompted by recent attacks on climate science. Filmmakers Simon Lamb and David Sington set out to discover the truth of the matter. They followed scientific researchers in the Arctic, Antarctic, Southern Ocean, New Zealand, Europe, and the United States for over three years to produce a portrait of a global community striving to understand the planet’s changing climate.

As with many of the festival screenings, Thin Ice will be followed by a discussion informed by local scientists, in this case, Elisabeth Sikes of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers, Anthony Broccoli of the Rutgers Climate Institute, and others.

This year’s festival features more than 25 films, including several shorts by students. Programs for children and other special events are designed to bring people together on issues that are both local and global.

“Everyone who attends is excited to be a part of it and it’s wonderful to see audiences so engaged, leaning forward, and really paying attention. Sometimes there is utter silence, sometimes audible gasps, and each screening usually ends in loud applause,” said library programming assistant Kim Dorman.

None of this, of course, comes about by accident. The films are carefully selected. Ms. Dorman and Festival Director Susan Conlon have viewed the films many times over.

“This year’s theme is ‘risk,’ with stories of individual acts of courage,” said Ms. Conlon, who founded the festival in 2006 (the first event took place in January 2007).

“And what all of us ‘risk’ by not taking action,” added Ms. Dorman.

One title to explore action and inaction is Bidder 70, which screens Friday, January 31, at 7 p.m. It chronicles a University of Utah student’s effort to save 22,000 acres of pristine land at the risk of imprisonment for his act of civil disobedience. Beth and George Gage, who produced and directed the film, will be on hand to discuss their work.

The “risk” theme is also evident in The Crash Reel, by Lucy Walker, Friday, February 7, at 7 p.m., about U.S. champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce and the irresistible appeal of extreme sports. During the run up to the 2010 Olympics, Mr. Pearce went into a coma. Nonetheless, he was drawn back to the sport. The film is shortlisted for an Academy Award this year.

“It’s not that we pick a theme and then search for films,” explained Ms. Conlon. “In fact, the opposite is true, we pick exceptional films and often find that there’s some common theme that develops. There are so many good films out there, and The Crash Reel is one of them.”

According to Ms Dorman, the festival’s staff “ups the ante” every year in an effort to make each festival better than the one before. The most challenging and indeed the most crucial part, according to Ms. Conlon, is finding films that people want to see.

Bringing filmmakers in to enrich the experience is another aspect that draws people back year after year. This year, more filmmakers will participate in question and answer sessions than ever before. “Watching the film with the people who made it right there in the room with you, engages you in a deeper way,” said Ms. Conlon. “And this community has a real appreciation for good filmmaking and good storytelling, so the filmmakers get a lot out of being here as well.”

Last year, the event was attended by over 4,000 people; about 5,000 are expected this year. For those concerned about the environment, it has become a tradition, a pilgrimage of sorts, at the very start of the New Year, generally a time of assessment and resolution.

“We’re pleased that the event has become a winter tradition,” said Library Director Leslie Burger, who thanked sponsors Church & Dwight Co. Inc., The Whole Earth Center of Princeton, the Friends of the Princeton Public Library, the Princeton Education Foundation and the Terra Momo Restaurant Group, in her weekly email letter, for helping to keep all PEFF screenings free.

As in past years, the event will be held over two consecutive four-day weekends, Thursday through Monday, January 30 to February 2 and February 6 to 9.

In between screenings there will be related events such as Sustainable Princeton’s Great Ideas Breakfast Friday, January 31, from 8:30 to 10 a.m., with “lightning talks” on “Sustainability in the Princeton Community, 2020 and a free, zero-waste breakfast with Fair Trade foods and beverages. The perennially popular Wallaby Tales brings wildlife educator Travis Gale and his live animals back to the library on Saturday, February 1, at 10 a.m.

Other highlights include Allison Argo’s Parrot Confidential on Friday, January 31, at 4 p.m. and Jeremy Seifert’s GMO OMG on Saturday, February 1, at 7 p.m. In the first of these, a parrot named Lou is abandoned in a foreclosed home, one of thousands of these quirky and highly intelligent birds in need of rescue. Local environmentalist Charles Leck, a retired professor of ecological sciences at Rutgers University will speak in conjunction with this film.

GMO OMG explores the corporate takeover of plant seeds. For gardeners and anyone interested in the source of their food and the global food system, this film’s examination of unknown health and environmental risks, chemical toxins, and food monopoly is a must-see.

One other film that is sure to incite discussion, is Tiny: A Story About Living Small on Friday, February 7, at 4 p.m. Produced and directed by Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith, it documents the movement for tiny homes that would fit into an average parking space and are often built on wheels to bypass building codes and zoning laws. The average size of new homes in America almost doubled from 1970 to 2010, and this film looks at six tiny homes and will be followed by a discussion with the filmmaker.

Screeings will be held in the Community Room of the Princeton Public Library unless noted otherwise. For more information, visit: http://community.princeton