Good green: Lessons from the 4th annual SF Green Film Festival

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A still from 'DamNation.'

I can count on my two hands the days it’s rained in San Francisco this year. You’d have to be living in a cave to not know that our city is having its worst drought in decades.

For that reason, the theme of the fourth annual San Francisco Green Film Festival is “Water in the West.” The festival, which began on Thu/29, is pushing us to reevaluate our relationship with water. As our state is faced with its worst drought since 1977, it is imminent that we answer the question on everyone’s minds: What is the future of water in California?

With over 60 films coming from 21 countries, the SFGFF is tackling our complicated relationship with water. Like a river flowing through the week-long festival, six feature films address this issue in varying ways: DamNation, Watermark, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, The Great Flood, Lost Rivers, and Chinatown.

Yesterday’s centerpiece film at the Roxie Theater, Watermark, explores humans’ relationship with water, traveling to countries far beyond what most of us have experienced. The film, directed by Canadian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky, superimposes breathtaking aerial perspectives of water scenes from around the world. Watermark travels to the National Ice Laboratory in Greenland, the disturbing and daunting Xiluodu Dam in China, a heavily-polluted leather tannery in Bangladesh, a pilgrimage of 30 million people bathing in the Ganges river, and a parched, cracked desert in Mexico where the Colorado River used to run wild, among many other beautiful sites.

The film exposes the manifold layers of our water consumption and offers awe-inspiring cinematography but leaves something to be desired. With no narrator and minimal context, the documentary shows rather than tells. It excels visually, but flounders thematically. We see how the world consumes water for farming, for energy, for spiritual and recreational purposes and most importantly for survival but what does it all mean?

The Green Film Festival finds answers with a handful of other films. On Saturday night, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek was awarded the Green Tenacity Award for capturing the inspiring community fight for environmental justice in Mississippi. Over the weekend, the festival hosted two shorts showcases, several workshops, various panel discussions and nightly feature films, including a special 40th anniversary screening of Chinatown.

The event's opening ceremony last Thursday night was fittingly held at the Aquarium of the Bay. It’s difficult to process the imminence of climate change with the majestical bay at fingertips length. But the opening night’s feature film DamNation drove the point home. The award winning documentary weaves together the ecological, political, economical and psychological implications of river dams. Focusing on the Pacific Northwest, the 87-minute film tracks the “era of dam removal.”

With nature-drenched cinematography and a candid narrator — co-director Ben Knight who admits in the first five minutes to his embarrassingly minimal knowledge on rivers dams when he signed onto the film — DamNation offers an excellent introduction to how the removal of river dams restore watershed ecosystems, revive fish migrations, improve water quality and the lives of adjacent communities and cultures. "The great beauty about wild fish is we don’t have to do a damned thing for them except leave them the hell alone,” says one of the activists in the film. At the end of the night, DamNation took home a 3-D printed award for Best Feature Film. The festival came full circle with Sunday night’s showing of The Great Flood, a film-music collaboration about the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, a catastrophe that prompted the “era of dams.”

The first leg of the Green Film Festival offered a wide array of perspectives about the green movement. Water is the world’s most precious resource and it affects all environmental issues from food security, healthy kids, and livable cities. The festival continues on with daily panel discussions and films promoting social change. Wednesday night’s Lost Rivers is the final installation of the six-part “Water in the West” theme. “Do you know what is hiding beneath our cities?” the film asks. Lost Rivers retraces history in search for disappeared rivers around the world. The film not only offers insight on how and why most rivers in major cities have disappeared today but also answers the question of whether we will see these rivers again.

Activism is rooted in community. For the fourth year, the Green Film Festival is engaging with the community through discussion and film. The community support in San Francisco is heartening. From the filled theaters to the community organizations who’ve partnered with this event: Earthjustice, American Rivers, Save the Bay, Restore the Delta and many others.

Water is invaluable to our daily lives but we treat water as an inexhaustible resource. The films showcased this week prove that this is not the case. Climate change is imminent and we are at the root of it. We can make a difference through education, engagement, activism, and our vote. And if you’re too lazy to do any of that, why not watch a film?

MONDAY JUNE 2

Seeds of Time + panel discussion with Sandy McLeod, director; Cary Fowler, agriculturalist; Greg Dalton, Climate One 

6pm, Roxie Theater


A Will for the Woods

8:30pm, Roxie Theater

 

TUESDAY JUNE 3

Free Screening: Thin Ice: The Inside Story of Climate Science

12pm, SF Public Library

 

Angel Azul  + panel discussion with Marcy Cravat, director

6pm, Roxie Theater


Uranium Drive-In

8:15pm, Roxie Theater


WEDNESDAY JUNE 4

Lost Rivers

6pm, Roxie Theater

 

Wrenched: The Legacy of the Monkey Wrench Gang + discussion with Ariana Garfinkel, archivist; David J. Cross, Earth First! photographer; Karen Pickett, activist; and other guest activists from the film.

8pm, Roxie Theater

 

Closing Night Wrap Party

10pm, Slate Bar