August 31, 2004

N.E.W.S. Report: A Round-up of Nature, Environmental, Wildlife and Science Film Festivals

From <em>Lord of the Arctic</em>, which screened at the 2004 Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC.

"It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living."

-Sir David Attenborough

Things have changed since Sir David Attenborough brought us Life on Earth. Back in 1979 when the BBC's 13-part series first aired, nature films were solely about ecosystems and the environment, digital technology was still a ways off, and television was the predominant outlet for these films.

Today, digital technology has made an enormous impact on filmmaking, the focus of many nature films has become the natural world's effect on humans, and television still attracts a large audience. But now there is a whole array of nature, environmental, wildlife and science and film festivals. Some are full-on conferences for people in the business of making wildlife films, others are fun for the filmmakers as well as families. Here's a look at some of the more prominent festivals.

Wildscreen and Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival

Wildscreen (www.wildscreen.org) and Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival (www.jhfestival.org) and are considered the "must attend" festivals for wildlife filmmakers. As sister festivals, of sorts, they take place in alternate years, usually in the early fallWildscreen in the even years, Jackson Hole in the odd. Wildscreen began in Bristol, England, in 1982, while Jackson Hole was launched in 1991. Both are conferences as much as festivals, with networking opportunities, panel discussions and exhibitions of the newest technology, as well as screenings.

Wildscreen is an intense, six-day gathering, where participants pack in as much as possible. The professional training sessions are a high point of Wildscreen. Festival Director Colin Butfield explains that as the home of the BBC Natural History Unit, Bristol is a big center for wildlife filmmaking "A lot of the training sessions take place inside the buildings, the post-production houses or the editing suites of the companies that make the films," Butfield notes. "So you really feel like you're part of a community and an industry that goes out and makes these films."

Jackson Hole takes place amid the dazzling peaks of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. "It was the American answer to Wildscreen," says Barry Clark, the festival's founder. It began out of concern that filmmakers who spend a good chunk of time out in the field may fall out of the loop. The festival, like Wildscreen, is an opportunity for filmmakers, commissioners and equipment providers to get together and talk about the latest emerging technologies and realities of the market.

As Festival Director Lisa Samford notes, "Nobody's going to get away from the fact that this is one of the hottest opportunities for people to meet and do their pitches, and exchange their story ideas with the folks who are making the decisions about what films are going to be made in the next two years."
This festival model has its pros and cons, says Terry Tanner Clark, a filmmaker and writer who has been in the business of wildlife filmmaking for many years. These festivals have become so popular that there is competition to set up meetings with commissioners. "It's like one-stop selling ," Clark maintains. "You have all the people concentrated in one place, so instead of hitting the East Coast, flying to Japan and Europe to meet with the likes of Discovery, National Geographic, WNET and International commissioners, they are all here."

Wildscreen focuses on those working in the industry. Indeed, with the exception of selected evening screenings, the festival is closed to the public; you must be a delegate to attend. But newcomers trying to get into the industry are welcome. They get a special discount and are paired with seasoned filmmakers during the festival.

Jackson Hole is evolving in many ways in terms of attendees, according to Samford. In 2003 festival organizers opened the event to the public for the first timewell, the latter part, which focused on ethics and conservation. Jackson Hole also produces a Tech Symposium between the festival years; this fall, from September 30 to October 2, the festival will collaborate with the IDA on the Jackson Hole Digital Synthesis, which is designed for media professionals exploring the economic, logistical and creative dimensions of technical advances in the industry. The Synthesis takes place in Santa Barbara, Californiaalso the site of Jackson Hole's Best of Festival Tour, a series of screenings and conversations with filmmakers and scientists.

International Wildlife Film Festival

What distinguishes the International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF; www.wildlifefilms.org) in Missoula, Montana, from Jackson Hole and Wildscreen is community involvement. "The public is welcome to attend," says Festival Director Janet Rose. She explains that there is community participation at every level of the festival, from judging film submissions, to volunteering at the festival, to attending the public screenings. The festival, which takes place in April, has a very strong focus on films, rather than on the marketplace. "While business deals are made and ideas are sold, it is all done in a very low-key, casual and informal way," Rose points out. "Students and newcomers are as welcome as veterans and big names in the industry. The one thing we really pride ourselves on at this festival is that everyone has a voice here."

Many of the festival activities are also geared towards children, including the famous Wild Walk parade, at which hundreds of children and families, musicians and drummers march down the street in wildlife costumes. Screenings for schoolchildren take place throughout the week, as do workshops and panel discussions aimed at kids.

Now in its 27th year, the IWFF is the oldest wildlife film festival in the world, and its mission to ensure scientific and biological accuracy, ethical film practices and excellence in the craft has not changed. But a few things have: IWFF is now a year-round media center devoted to wildlife and natural history programming. Among the center's programs and services is the Earthvision Library, which allows people to borrow films from the library for $2.00, plus shipping costs.

In addition, this year marks the premiere of the International Cultural Film Symposium, taking place in September. Rose explains that IWFF receives many films that don't meet the criteria for the festival but whose subject matter embraces issues of concern to wildlife and habitat.

Environmental Film Festival

Flo Stone, the founder and coordinator of the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC (www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org), acknowledges that the name of the festival makes it difficult because people don't think it's going to be much fun. But when audiences discover that programming includes animation, their idea of environmental films changes.

"This festival is a smorgasbord in diverse programming," Stone says. "It's very open and we're taking the word 'environment' extremely broadly; we're talking about the built environment. We have animated films, feature films, films on wildlife and natural history, films on issues, children's films and family films."

There might be a portrait film such as A Constructive Madness (Tom Ball, Brian Neff and Jeffrey Kipnis, dirs.), about architect Frank Gehry, or a series of films about the political situation inand physical landscape ofTibet. "We want to evoke a sense of place," Stone asserts.

The festival, which runs for ten days in mid-to-late March, is a collaborative effort involving more than 70 museums, libraries, grassroots and environmental organizations and universities based in Washington, DC. While the skeletal staff oversees the festival, organizations such as the Smithsonian Institute present each of the programs.

Reaching out to the public is a priority for this festival. "We want segments of the public who have never seen these films to see them," Stone explains. The festival showcases the winners from other festivals including Wildscreen and Jackson Hole, but it doesn't just screen the films; it presents post-screening discussions with the filmmakers or persons knowledgeable about the topics. This year's festival included a panel discussion about the scientific elements in Disney's animated feature Finding Nemo and a talk by Sir David Attenborough.

The Environmental Film Festival doesn't have a formal educational program, but it does act as a resource for schools, community groups and other organizations. "When people are trying to put festivals together, they call to get suggestions for films that should be in the program," Stone notes. "We're delighted to be a resource."

International Science Film Festival

The International Science Film Festival (www.sciencefilmfestival.org) in Boulder, Colorado, debuts in September. The ten-day event aims to screen films that illustrate how science is relevant to our everyday lives. The festival will include documentaries, narrative and animation.

The goal of the festival is to bring science closer to the general population, says co-founder Janet Intrieri. "We've separated science from mainstream culture," she maintains. "For such a long time now we've marginalized it as something that's scary or just for the experts." Accordingly, the festivalthe only one of its kind in the United Stateshas opened its doors to all people to talk about science in an interesting and informed way.
Boulder is also the home of NOAH, the National Oceanic Atmosphere Association, a major center for scientific research. So, with a stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, in a city where science is thriving, this festival promises to be a welcome addition to the festival circuit.

The World Congress of Science Producers

Presented by the Banff Television Foundation, the World Congress of Science Producers (www.banffmedia.com/science/) is an industry-oriented event whose focus is on the challenges of science programming. "It's not a market, but people bring science programs to the event," says Sarah Pearson of the foundation. "Independent producers pitch ideas, broadcasters check out films in the video library and business deals are made." The congress changes locations every year; this year it takes place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, from October 31 through November 3.

Other Festivals Around the World

The Ecomove Environmental Network (www.ecomove.de) is a collaborative effort among six international film festivals from Slovakia, Russia, Japan, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Germany. Ecomove, which is projected to take place in November 2005 in Berlin, Germany, screens the winning films from each festival. The mission of Ecomove is to develop new markets for environmental productions and facilitate open distribution of environmental media.

FICA International Festival of Environmental Film and Video (www.fica.art.br), based in Goiás, Brazil, takes place in June.

The Green Film Festival (www.greenfestival.or.kr) in Seoul, Korea, was launched this year. One of its goals is to change "environmentally polluted Seoul into environmentally cultured Seoul." It is part of the international network of ecofilm festivals and environmental organizations that share environmental and cultural materials to raise public awareness.

The Green Vision Environmental Film Festival (www.ecomove.de) takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia. Each year the festival focuses on a theme or an environmental issue, with the goal of raising public awareness. There is also special programming for children.

The Jules Verne Film Festival (www.julesVerneAventures.com/) in Paris, France, celebrates the adventurous spirit and inquiring mind of the 19th and early 20th century science fiction writer, as epitomized in the festival's motto: "Rediscover the Earth, a hundred years after Jules Verne." Presented by the Institut Oceanographique, the festival, which runs in mid-March, explores a world that Verne wrote about: the sky and the sea, underwater and outer space, human endeavors and scientific exploration. The films mix science with adventure and include documentary, features and animation. There are guest speakers, special themes, and contests for young people.

The komedia International Environmental Film Festival (www.oekomedia-institute.de) in Freiburg, Germany, is one of the foremost film festivals of its kind. The festival, which takes place in late October, operates under the auspices of the komedia Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally oriented media and media policy.

Planet in Focus (www.planetinfocus.org) in Toronto, Canada, is part of the Planet in Focus Foundation, which hosts both a film festival and year-round programs.
The festival, which runs from September 28 to October 3, is interested in films that push the boundaries of traditional ideas of "environment."

This list is by no means exhaustive. It is a sampling of established nature, environmental, wildlife and science film festivals, along with some of the newest to come on the scene. What is certain is that they continue to occupy a special place on the festival circuit as they open our eyes and heighten our understanding of the world around us.

Source of quote from Sir David Attenborough: www.bbc.co.uk/nature/programmes/tv/state_planet/attenborough.shtml

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