The offerings at the nonprofit Environmental Film Festival, an event unfolding this month in the nation’s capital, cast a wide net. The 180 productions from 42 countries scheduled to be screened tell diverse tales, some of them offbeat. Subjects include the life and struggles of a nomadic reindeer herder in the Artic Circle; Scottish homeowners who oppose Donald Trump’s plan to build a golf course on wilderness land; and a family seeking to protect the California condor.
The goal is to harness the power of film to promote understanding of the environment. “These are not films shown in the local cineplex,” says Flo Stone, the festival’s founder.
Now in its 20th year, the festival has come a long way since Ms. Stone started it with a $25,000 award from the Golden Rule Foundation, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Back then people thought environmental films consisted of nature scenes set to Muzak, says Ms. Stone. She has worked steadily to change that image by showcasing a broad swath of films that encompass architecture, artists, and activists, including Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who encouraged the planting of millions trees in her native Kenya. Films spotlighting major contemporary issues, including last year’s Japanese tsunami and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, also have a place.
“We want to take people around the world and have them hear and see and experience voices and places and people they wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” says Ms. Stone.
More than 30,000 people are expected to attend one of the free or low-cost screenings held at museums, embassies, libraries, movie theaters, and elsewhere around the city. Directors or producers from more than half of the offerings—including the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who has a new film, “The Dust Bowl”—will discuss their work.
About half of the group’s $630,000 budget comes from foundations. The organization also receives support from government, corporations, and individuals.
Just as important as the screenings blitz is the festival’s Web site, dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org, which gives the films a global audience, says Ms. Stone. She hopes school groups might browse the site and find films to show their students.
“We want to awaken people to the vital importance of the environment,” she says.