March 15, 2023

Sustainability, Conservation Take the Screen At Library’s Environmental Film Festival

“PATH OF THE PANTHER”: The documentary directed by Eric Bendick is one of 22 films illuminating a range of environmental issues that will be shown at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival March 24 to 31.

By Wendy Greenberg

Outdoor lighting pollution, protecting the elusive Florida panther, and threats to the Amazon ecosystem are subjects of some of the story-driven films that will be part of the 17th annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival (PEFF). The festival, which will be held March 24 to 31, is a signature event of the Princeton Public Library.

The 22 films, including 11 feature-length documentaries and 11 short films (one is a short narrative film), will be screened in person in the library’s Community Room and virtually, with some films available in both formats. Selections being screened virtually will be available to view through April 2. One film will be screened at the Princeton Garden Theatre on March 30.

“The films get better and better,” said Susan Conlon, festival co-director with Kim Dorman, both library staff members. “The public seems more interested in documentary films. The films are stronger and better and the public has an appetite for them.”

The festival also serves to make connections to organizations. “Many times after a film, a viewer will say, ‘What can I do?’ and will try to connect with a nonprofit organization, so they are learning about the topic and making community connections,” said Dorman.

While the films were originally shown completely in person, and then online during the pandemic, the films are now screened in a multi-platform arena, which expands the viewership.

Conlon and Dorman said that even though audiences are now used to films on-demand, audiences are looking forward to seeing a film “in a community,” which is a different viewing experience.

Conlon and Dorman curate and present films with local, regional, and international relevance. “Some of the filmmakers might have international exposure, but we also want to see what is happening in New Jersey and put a spotlight on our own environment.”

The festival has several films with a New Jersey connection. These include a film that follows the unique working partnership between small farmers and plant biologists as they develop disease- and climate-resistant food crops to support New Jersey’s food system, as family farms race against climate change. Filmmaker Dena Seidel, a social scientist, is the science outreach specialist for the Rutgers Marine Science Department. Fields of Devotion will be screened on Saturday, March 25 at 11 a.m. Seidel and others will take part at a post-screening Q & A.

Many people live their entire lives without ever seeing the Milky Way because of light pollution, and Princeton University astrophysicist Gaspar Bakos wants to change that. Bakos, one of a growing number of experts championing simple, commonsense changes to outdoor lighting that can dramatically reduce light pollution. Dark Sacred Night, by local filmmaker Jared Flesher, will be shown on Wednesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. Bakos and Flesher will participate in a post-screening Q & A. Since 2011, Flesher has had eight films in the festival, this will be his ninth. His most recent feature film, Pine Mud, won the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Emmy Award for Documentary.

Recognizing that food waste is among the main contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, a group of Princeton High School students use larvae of the black soldier fly to bioremediate discarded food. Their research made Princeton High School a National Grand Prize Winner in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, and is the subject of The Bug That Brings Us Together, shown as part of a block of short films on Tuesday, March 28 at 4 p.m.

Other highlights in the festival include Path of the Panther on Friday, March 24 at 7 p.m., in which National Geographic photographer Carlton Ward Jr. captures images of the endangered and elusive Florida panther, which aids his efforts to protect the species and restore some of its habitat. Cinematographer Katie Bryden will answer questions after the showing.

Trailblazing London fashion designer Amy Powney is on a mission to create a sustainable collection from field to finished garment and transform the way we engage with fashion in Fashion Reimagined on Saturday, March 25 at 4 p.m. Prior to the screening, “Thrift that Fit,” an interactive panel presentation by local thrift store enthusiasts on how to create a more sustainable wardrobe, takes place at 3 p.m.

Three Indigenous leaders from the Amazon try to keep their ways of being in the world alive in Stepping Softly on the Earth, on Sunday, March 26 at 1:30 p.m. In the film, the three narrate the threats to their territories from large-scale mining, monoculture, oil extraction, logging and the construction of hydroelectric plants. Filmmaker Marcos Colon will take part in a post-screening Q & A.

Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West is a sweeping, immersive journey into the world of wild horses that illuminates both their profound beauty and the desperate plight they face in the Western United States. The screening on Sunday, March 26 at 3:30 p.m. will be followed by a Q & A with filmmaker Ashley Avis.

In Pleistocene Park, a Russian scientist and his son endeavor to restore the Ice Age “mammoth steppe” ecosystem by bringing thousands of formerly indigenous wildlife back to Siberia’s Plesitocene Park. It will be screened on Tuesday, March 28 at 6 p.m.

The documentary All That Breathes follows two brothers who run a bird hospital dedicated to rescuing the injured black kites that fall daily from the smog-choked skies of New Delhi, India. It will be shown on Thursday, March 30 at 7 p.m. at Princeton Garden Theatre in Hindi with English subtitles. Tickets are free but required, and are available through the theater.

Thanks to festival sponsors Church & Dwight Co. Inc., Whole Earth Center, High Meadows Environmental Institute at Princeton University, and the Friends and Foundation of the Princeton Public Library, all PEFF screenings are free.

The full lineup of films including screening schedule, running times, and instructions for using the Eventive platform can be found at