By Daniel Joseph Lilly
Since 2011, The San Francisco Green Film Festival has been bringing environmentally minded films and events to cinemas and other venues throughout the city. The 2017 Green Film Fest will take place from April 20?26. Screenings will happen at venues across the city, including the Mission’s Roxie Theater and the Castro Theater. The theme for the Green Film Fest this year is “Future of Food.”
Rachel Caplan, founder of The San Francisco Green Film Festival, was inspired by the well-known environmental documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by David Guggenheim, with a screenplay by Al Gore. She immediately recognized the ability of the film to inform and move people to real action. Since then, her work with The San Francisco Green Film Festival has been connecting filmmakers, activist groups, and residents of the Bay Area to generate results.
Six festivals in — and planning the 7th — Caplan said that it was starting to feel like the festival was really making a difference. Opening night for the very first festival featured the award-winning documentary “Bag It,” directed by Suzan Beraza, and she is happy to have played a part in the statewide ban on plastic bags.
But, she was quick to point out that she sees new and serious challenges on the horizon after the presidential election. She said that the festival has “always shown films that call out our leaders,” and believes activists have a responsibility to hold those in power accountable. This can be seen in the organization’s “First 100 Days” series. Each week throughout the administration's first 100 days, the San Francisco Green Film Festival is recommending one film “to arm you with knowledge, ideas, and inspiration” against recent propositions to roll back environmental programs and regulations.
The focus for the organizers of The San Francisco Green Film Festival is to go beyond simply screening quality films with an environmental message. Caplan noted that, in their first year, the organization believed it would be enough just to show compelling films with relevant messages. She said, “You can see the powerful impacts on people in the moment,” but she quickly realized that the organization needed to do more if it was going to drive people to action.
Now, she sees the festival as “a bridge between films and the great work within the community.” She believes that every film, no matter how remote its setting may be from the Bay Area, is connected to local action and environmental organizations. Her goal is for the festival first to inspire people, and then to help those people find the resources to make changes.
Festival attendees can fill out Green Pledge Cards at the festival, by which the organization collects contact information from individuals who pledge to make a change, however small. They use these cards to follow up with the individuals throughout the rest of the year. They also set up a video booth on site, where people can record their goals in the heat of inspiration. These videos are featured after the festival on the organization’s Instagram account.
The festival also has many ways to connect with their community partners via their website, www.greenfilmfest.org, which features organizations such as the Center for Food Safety, the Eat Real Festival, Food and Water Watch, Food Shift, and the Nomad Gardens in 2017. The website also offers advice on small ways to make a difference, such as by supporting local farmers, and reducing food waste. A vegetarian herself for the past two decades, Caplan believes that making environmentally responsible choices in food is one of the easiest ways to make an impact.
All this is a lot to manage for the two year-round employees of the organization. The festival’s publicist, Karen Larsen of Larsen Associates, is a stalwart of the Bay Area independent film industry. She attributes the growth of the festival, both in terms of renown and prestige, to Caplan and COO Gemma Bradshaw, and “their tireless devotion to finding really great environmental films.”
Bradshaw organizes their vast network of community partners. She said, “We want audiences to leave the theater knowing what they can do next, and our community partners are there to make that happen.” According to her, the actions can be as simple as planting something with Friends of the Urban Forest. She and the community partners are happy for any and all actions that the festival inspires.
The nonprofit organization relies upon long-time local supporters such as Kaiser Permanente and Recology. Bradshaw is pleased to welcome new organizations in 2017, such as Nutiva and Rainbow Grocery.
The San Francisco Green Film Festival is also proud to support the work of young filmmakers in the Bay Area. The organization facilitates free filmmaking workshops with San Francisco Public Library’s digital media learning space for teens, The Mix. The workshops include film screenings and a question-and-answer session with the audience, providing teens with unique experience and exposure to the world of filmmaking.
The festival offers about 300 free tickets to local students. Young filmmakers have always had their films featured throughout the week of screenings. In 2015, the festival also began offering a Young Filmmaker Award. The Award is open to filmmakers age 18 years or younger, for whom the submission fee is also waived.
The festival will begin on April 20, with the world premiere of filmmaker Mark Kitchell’s “Evolution of Organic” at the Castro Theatre. The film celebrates the local origins of organic farming, and explores the continuing developments and innovations in the industry of organic agriculture. Kitchell, as well as special guests from the film, will be in attendance at the screening.
The centerpiece of the festival will take place on April 23 at the Roxie Theatre, with the West Coast premiere of “Rise: Standing Rock.” Filmmaker Michele Latimer will be in attendance for the screening of her film, which documents the resistance at Standing Rock to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The festival closes on April 26, with the world premiere of “Twelve Pianos” at the Castro Theatre. The screening of this documentary about Mauro fortissimo piano installations will feature filmmaker Dean Mermell, special guests from the film, and live piano performances.
According to Larsen, the growing relevance of the festival has warranted upcoming coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, SF Weekly, Bay Area Reporter, and many other local media outlets. For more information about the San Francisco Green Film Festival, visit the website, www.greenfilmfest.org
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