Have you ever groaned over gas prices or worried about the quality of your tap water? Chances are that at least one environmental issue has affected your daily life. Our drinking water, energy, food and waste are all environmental concerns. In recent years, an environmental movement that addresses these concerns has exploded across the country and at MSU. The environment has even become part of our culture. Walking around campus, one can see students with totes, shirts, and bumper stickers promoting the care of planet earth. In 2006, Al Gore’s blockbuster documentary An Inconvenient Truth spread an awareness of global warming – an issue that many had not even heard of just a few years ago. This one film provoked a wave of environmental activism around the world. This year, MSU will bring over 20 lesser-known films to East Lansing in the hope of inciting environmental consciousness and activism. From Nov. 13 to 16, MSU will host an environmental film festival named “Green on the Big Screen.” [susanwoods]
The event, which the College of Communication Arts & Sciences is hosting, is the first ever environmentally focused film festival to be held at MSU. Matt Cimitile, the president of MSU’s Environmental Journalism Association who is helping to organize the event, said that they chose to do an environmental film festival now to raise awareness about the declining state of the environment. “We wanted to focus on the environment because it’s increasingly important and there is a growing demand to understand and solve these issues,” Cimitile said.
Susan Woods, director of the East Lansing Film Festival, is also directing Green on the Big Screen. She said that the environment is the one of the most important issues society is currently facing. “Everyone is realizing that time is running out. Even the auto and energy industries understand that they must become part of this movement if they want to survive.” Since the public cry for alternative fuel and energy has become louder, she said that industries must learn to adapt if they want to stay in business. Hopefully, this environmental film festival will raise awareness of the issue.
The organizers of Green on the Big Screen will show films on topics most relevant to the Lansing area, such as water, alternative energy, agriculture and sustainability. The films will be shown in the Communication Arts building where attendees will also be able to explore an informational fair that will be running throughout each day. Student organizations, businesses, and agencies will have booths encouraging attendees to become locally involved. The fair will show people how they can help the environment and solve some of the issues presented in the films.
The Power of Film
Green on the Big Screen was created to augment environmental discussion. While totes or shirts may fail to effectively communicate an eco-friendly message, Woods thinks films can inspire people: “What I love about film is that it can transport you into another world. It affects you emotionally, intellectually, and on a visual level in a way that no other art form can.”
Woods hopes the festival attracts both students and citizens of the community to come together for the cause. “Film is one of few art forms that is a collective experience. People to go to a film festival because they are finding other people who are interested in the same things as they are. Festivals bring people together in finding and learning,” Woods said.
Woods was very careful in picking out the films that will be shown in the festival. The films needed to be both educational and entertaining. Boring documentaries will not likely unite people for the cause. Woods said, “The films are good and they touch on issues that will interest people.” Factual and entertaining, the films can be both enjoyed and contemplated.
The opening night film, Encounters at the End of the World, is a documentary directed by Werner Herzog. Released in theaters last year, Encounters shows the rarely filmed beauty of Antarctica. Some people may be familiar with Herzog’s work; he directed Grizzly Man in 2005 about a scientist who is killed by a bear while studying grizzlies in Alaska. Grizzly Man was very popular, perhaps because Herzog has a style that pulls viewers themselves into the film. “The director has a sensibility that’s a little bit off-kilter, and it becomes engrossing,” Woods said. Andrea Meditch, the executive producer of the film, will make a guest appearance at the festival and stimulate discussion about the film.
Guest speakers were incorporated into Green on the Big Screen to help enhance the viewers’ experience in at least five of the films. The speakers have either worked on the film or have expertise on the topic. They will hold question and answer sessions to help viewers better understand the films and their messages. Caitlin Dixon, editor of the documentary FLOW: For Love of Water, will be a guest speaker for the film. FLOW confronts the fact that the world’s supply of water is dwindling, an issue that greatly concerns citizens of the Great Lakes area. Woods is especially excited to have Dixon, since she is originally from the Lansing area.
Not Just for Professionals
MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism is another major partner of the festival. Part of MSU’s journalism school, the Knight Center trains students to become professional environmental journalists through classes, workshops or experience writing for EJ Magazine.
In the Knight Center’s environmental filmmaking class, students make a documentary utilizing MSU’s resources. The Knight Center will show two student-made films at Green on the Big Screen. Dying to Be Heard and Meltdown, are each about 30 minutes in length and explore some of the most prevalent environmental topics. The films were made as the first two parts of the Knight Center’s television series “Environment” and have already been aired numerous times on local PBS stations.
The storyline of Dying to Be Heard was inspired by an editorial by Knight Center Director Jim Detjen published in EJ Magazine. The article and film tell the story of groundbreaking research done by zoology professor George Wallace in the 1950s on the harmful effects of pesticides. By studying numerous dead robins found on MSU’s campus, Wallace was one of the first people to link the deaths of birds to DDT. A man-made pesticide, DDT was widely used in the 40s and 50s to kill mosquitoes that were spreading malaria. Unfortunately, DDT also ended up killing birds. Wallace’s findings were cited in Rachel Carson’s infamous book “Silent Spring” in 1962, which criticized the widespread use of DDT without knowing the possible effects of the new chemical. Her book led to the banning of DDT and the start of the environmental movement.
Fisheries and wildlife management senior Ben Phillips worked as an associate producer on Dying to Be Heard, which was made in the 2006-2007 school year. He hopes Green on the Big Screen will put a spotlight on the Environmental Journalism department. Speaking of the film he said, “It looks like a real documentary. It doesn’t look student-made.” [Phillips]
The Michigan Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences seems to agree with Phillips. This year, the academy awarded Dying to Be Heard an Emmy for best lighting, received by executive producer of the film and Knight Center instructor Lou D’Aria. The film was also nominated for best original music, composed by doctoral music composition student Kevin Wilt.
Phillips hopes viewers take an important message away from the film. “I think that everybody should know that they’re not historically autonomous,” Phillips said. Wallace’s story warns of the possible tragic effects of implementing new, unstudied “solutions” to environmental problems. Learning of the mistakes made in the past can help society find the best ways to deal with environmental issues today.
The second student-made film to be shown at the festival was made in the 2007-2008 school year and explores one of the most talked about issues today: global warming. Entitled Meltdown, the film is based on an article published in EJ Magazine called “Messages from the Artic” by Alicia Clarke, which talks about glaciers melting in the Artic. The film interviews several experts at MSU about the possible effects of global warming.
In the film, MSU plant biology expert Merritt Turetsky reveals that climate change may be causing the solid earth of the north to become soggy. In the boreal forests of northern Canada, Russia and China the ground is usually permafrost, or frozen soil. But studies have found that the permafrost is melting, damaging the natural environment.
Environmental journalism graduate student Mary Hansen helped work on the film and hopes it brings more awareness of the lesser-known effects of global warming. “People need to realize this is going on. We need to work with scientists and not be so skeptical,” Hansen said. She said that it couldn’t hurt if we all took small steps to help reduce global warming.
From orangutans to the garbage in your own backyard, the films shown at Green on the Big Screen will cover a wide variety of topics. Some of them are funny and some are tragic, but they all have their own story to tell about the environment. The following are just a few of the films that will be shown.
As seen in the news lately, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has brought a new wave of attention to the desire to drill US oil reserves in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The film Oil on Ice reveals the unique environment of the refuge and the impact American travel, oil use and energy policies have on the area.
[mattcimitile]Part of David Suzuki’s television show, Nature of Things, the documentary Build Green shows homeowners how they can utilize their resources to build more environmentally friendly homes. The documentary shows how to use rain, sun, dirt and waste to reduce their impact on climate change. Implementing these changes can also give homeowners a healthier and more economic home.
King Corn is a popular documentary that explores the corn industry. Two best friends move to Iowa to learn about corn farming and the widespread use of corn in many of our foods. The film presents many questions about how America farms and what we eat. Woods said that the film is very entertaining as well as relevant to an agricultural school like MSU.
Do Your Part
After viewing the films, Woods hopes people will “turn off their lights, walk more and recycle more stringently.” She also hopes people become more active in their community. She said, “This is just the beginning of what could be a very important event.” If the festival is successful, it will continue in future years.
Cimitile hopes the festival motivates all member of the Lansing area to come together for the cause. “Individuals matter, but it will take a whole community to make a change. And major change can happen at the local level. You don’t need the federal government to take action. Change can happen at the state, local and university level,” Cimitile said.
Now it is up to you. Green on the Big Screen provides the information, but you must decide what you do with it. Will you help care for the environment? Or will you hope someone else takes responsibility? The earth has many problems and action must be taken to fix them. Instead of wearing a recycling sign on your T-shirt, encourage others to recycle in your dorm. Instead of sporting a tote embroidered with a tree, organize tree planting in your community. MSU students have the power to change the world. Woods laid it out simply: “This is your generation, your future that is in jeopardy.”
The film festival runs from 4pm Thursday, Nov. 13 – 7pm Sunday, Nov. 16
Film Festival Costs: $3 for 1 film, $6 for 3 films, $15 for all films
To learn more about Green on the Big Screen and for a complete list of films visit www.cas.msu.edu/filmfest.