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Activists at Some Level: Environmental Film Fest, March 29 at the Unitarian Church of Davenport PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 19 March 2008 02:48

Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis in King Corn Kathryn Allen serves as the chief organizer for the Quad Cities' third-annual Environmental Film Festival, and when we sat down for a recent interview, she described the turnout for 2006's inaugural program as "pretty good - we had probably about 100 people, and we were ecstatic. We thought that was just great.


"So by the second year," she continues, "we thought, ‘Well, we can double or triple that.' And we would have, I'm sure ... if it had not been the most weather-filled day of the entire winter that February 24. Rain, snow, sleet, freezing, drying, re-freezing, and we ended with a huge winter thunderstorm. Talk about the environment."


Yet while "100 people came anyway, even though it was not nice out there," Allen adds that she and the festival's fellow organizers opted against risking Mother Nature's wrath again this year. ("We had a lot of leftover chilI that day," Allen says with a laugh.) 2008's Environmental Film Fest - being held at the Unitarian Church of Davenport - will take place on March 29, "and, you know, it looks promising," says Allen of the potential weather conditions. "A little chilly, maybe, but I think it's gonna be good. Although I hope it's not so great that everybody wants to garden."


Who Killed the Electric Car? My guess, though, is that even this wouldn't bother her all that much. A member of the Sierra Club of the Quad Cities - which sponsors the annual festival along with the Eagle View Group of the Sierra Club, The Radish, and the Unitarian Church - Allen states that the goal of the Environmental Film Fest is to help inspire people to work toward the well-being of the planet, be it through conservation, activism, or even such everyday tasks as gardening. "We need to take a better look at ourselves," she states. "I mean, that's really the bottom line: Where do I, as an individual, fit into all of this? What am I buying, what am I eating, what am I disposing of with such abandon, you know?"


This year's festival will find two rooms within the church screening six documentary feature films (see sidebar for film schedule), with another room showing nine children's DVDs, and Allen says the idea for the local project originated in the summer of 2005, when she and a fellow member of the Sierra Club attended the first national Sierra Club summit in San Francisco. The event featured a series of environmentally themed presentations and guest speakers - "and that was the same week that Katrina hit," says Allen.


"Bobby Kennedy Jr. had been scheduled to speak anyway, but Al Gore had been scheduled to speak in New Orleans, and obviously was not able to do that. He came up. So we had this enormous amount of inspiration, and they were running movies during the event, and my friend and I said, ‘You know, we could do this at home. This is really good stuff.'"


The local and national chapters of the Sierra Club, as well as the festival's current sponsors, agreed, and since 2006, the annual Environmental Film Fest has screened some of America's most noteworthy environmental-documentary titles, including the Academy Award-winning March of the Penguins and An Inconvenient Truth, and the auto-industry exposé Who Killed the Electric Car?. (The movie, Allen says, will be screened again this year "because so few people were able to come" in 2007.)


Crude Awakening Allen understands that potential viewers can be wary of the bleakness that often accompanies environmentally themed documentaries - even such audience-friendly box-office hits as 2005's Oscar winner. ("And ever since that [movie] came out, the story for the penguins just keeps getting worse," states Allen.) Yet the festival's organizer says, "We don't want people to leave feeling depressed. We want them, hopefully, to leave feeling like ‘I, too, can be an activist at some level. And that may just mean changing something in my daily life.' That's where it begins. I don't look at these films as being depressing so much as informational, educational, and even inspirational."


Also, hopefully, motivational. "I think that some people need to be made good and angry before they will move," says Allen. "Before they will change. Before they will feel the compulsion to do something about the situation. A lot of the work that's being done is being done by people who just got angry. Really mad. And mad enough to do something.


"I just think we need information, you know? Because unless we understand the bigger problem, we probably don't have much motivation to leave our comfortable lives."


Allen recognizes, though, that such change won't take place overnight, or over the course of one film festival. "I think that, for years, we're gonna have to keep nurturing people's indignation," she says, "and their willingness to look at their lives and change, from the personal to the community, to the larger state, national, and global levels.


"You know, anger can be a very destructive thing," she continues, "but it can also be very constructive, if it's channeled in a positive direction. It's a source of energy, and one of our bottom-line goals is to help people want to be - and actually become - activists, at their level. And hopefully they'll move on from there."


King Corn In addition to movies on the church's upper level, the Environmental Film Fest will also offer food provided by Greatest Grains - "chili and fresh veggies and cookies ... ," Allen lists - as well as environmental and health specialists, who will converse with festival attendees in the downstairs lounge.


"We're going to have nine resource tables," says Allen, "with people who are really doing something tangible, and practical, to live in a more earth-friendly style." Among those already lined up are representatives from Keep Rock Island Beautiful and Keep Scott County Beautiful, Port Byron's ePower Synergies Inc., and "a couple in Port Byron who are building an electric car, and they're going to be here with their sample - their prototype. We're trying to hook up with somebody for each movie who's got some knowledge in its area."


With (fingers crossed) less off-putting weather than that which greeted the second-annual festival, Allen says that organizers are again shooting for triple the 2006 attendance this year - "Three hundred people over the course of the day would be wonderful" - and adds, "We hope to have a lot of people come whether they're believers in a more environmentally friendly lifestyle already, or whether they just want to learn more about how to do it."


And within a few years, she states, "Hopefully it'll grow to the point where we need a larger venue, or we expand it to a whole weekend. When I started researching this whole thing, I found a site in Washington, D.C., where they actually have a film festival like this going on for weeks. Not like Thursday through Sunday, but for weeks. Showing, like, 150 movies. That'll take a while. We have to grow a little more."



The Unitarian Church of Davenport (located at 3707 Eastern Avenue) will host the Environmental Film Fest from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 29. Admission is free, though donations will be accepted, and more information is available by visiting the church's Web site at (



Environmental Film Fest: Feature Documentary Schedule





11 a.m.: King Corn - A study of our nation's most subsidized crop, featuring two friends who lease an acre of farmland in Greene, Iowa, and follow their product from its harvesting to its marketing. (The Hollywood Reporter: "A worthy complement to such thematically related films as Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me.")


1 p.m.: Who Killed the Electric Car? - An exposé on the 1996 proliferation of automobiles that ran without gasoline, and their subsequent, near-total eradication. (The New York Times: "A murder mystery, a call to arms, and an effective inducement to rage.")


3 p.m.: Crude Awakening - An examination of the Earth's dwindling oil resources, featuring interviews with leading experts in the field. ( "A terrific work of investigative-journalism-as-film that will scare the living crap out of you.")


5 p.m.: Kilowatt Ours - An advocacy feature produced by the Southern Energy Conservation Initiative, showing the adverse health and environmental effects behind everyday home-energy use. (The School Library Journal: "Appealingly quirky, this film will generate discussion in biology and environmental-science classes.)



Community Room


11 a.m.: Blue Vinyl - An exploration of the potentially deadly effects of vinyl, with an emphasis on alternatives and safe methods for its disposal. (Variety: "Enormously entertaining ... funny, informative, and skillfully made.")


1 p.m.: King Corn


3 p.m.: Everything's Cool - An analysis of the government's suppression of scientific research, featuring interviews with American citizens on what they're personally doing to help curtail the effects of global warming. (Slant magazine: "The doc is notable for continuing where An Inconvenient Truth left off, delving into the political censorship that has kept global warming a non-issue in the United States for so long.")


5 p.m.: Crude Awakening


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