Green Film Festival moves to expand audience
By Lou Fancher
Variety in screening locations and lively Bay Area audiences are paying big dividends at the 2016 San Francisco Green Film Festival, which is operating ahead-of-the-times this year.
Previously programmed in June, the sixth annual festival of environmental films, panels and parties aimed at spurring community conversations and activism hops two months forward to run April 14 to 20. Nearly 70 international, national and local films -- and one forward-thinking, historic cat video created 40 years before the advent of YouTube -- come to five theaters in San Francisco and two venues in Berkeley.
New this year, the festival's opening and closing nights take place at the Castro Theatre and a screening of the anti-fracking documentary "Dear President Obama" at Banatao Auditorium in Suturdja Dai Hall moves the East Bay action onto the UC Berkeley campus for the first time. The April 18 on-campus event comes at the kickoff of Earth Week and features a post-screening panel discussion with director Jon Bowermaster and representatives from Food & Water Watch and the Center for Biological Diversity.
A second film, "Ice and the Sky," about the life of climate change scientist Claude Lorius, has its California premier in downtown Berkeley at the David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, on April 19."Every filmmaker wants to see their film at the Castro; it's the jewel in the crown of San Francisco theaters. It's been our goal and that's part of the timing move to April," says festival founder and Director Rachel Caplan. "In Berkeley, our festival used to be outside term time, so moving it to coincide with Earth Week in April and bringing it on campus for the first time is exciting. We expect larger participation."
Caplan says the festival has grown each year. A three-year association with the UC Berkeley Student Environmental Resource Center fulfills the organization's mission to reach and inspire young people to become leaders in the environmental movement. "We hand over a slot to a team of students and partner with them to create and promote the panel talks," says Caplan.
Film entries are also on the uptick this year: double the number submitted in 2015, which pushed the accepted films from 60 to 70. Caplan says the curated showcase of films is gaining notice due to returning filmmakers and the intense, passionate Q&A's that have expanded audience size and diversity.
Surveys and other data-gathering techniques have shown that 79 percent of people who attend the films go on to make environment-related changes in their lives. Special youth group pricing and a subsidized number of free tickets for students has increased youth ticket sales in particular.
With 2016 signaling the 10th anniversary of environmental documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and the 50th anniversary of director James Hill's "Born Free," the wildlife epic about Elsa the Lioness that led to the creation of film star Virginia McKenna's Born Free Foundation, Caplan says selecting the festival's theme, Keep It Wild, was obvious. "I'm from the U.K., so I grew up with 'Born Free.' Every generation responds to it. It's the mother of all cat films and to have the star, Virginia, attend the screening is spectacular.
Additional festival highlights include "An American Ascent," which follows nine African Americans attempting to summit Denali, America's highest peak; "Not Without Us," and the world premiere of San Francisco director Mark Decena's portrayal of seven grass roots activists and their participation in the 2015 U.N. Climate Talks in Paris.