The largest independent film festival in the country officially begins today in Park City, Utah. Sundance Film Festival has attracted entertainers and artists alike since its inception in 1978, although it has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a small local film market in Salt Lake City. Today, the festival is an internationally renowned hub for groundbreaking independent films seeking to challenge social constructs and provide a voice for stories that we may otherwise relegate to whispers.
Although the festival is no stranger to showcasing climate change and conservation films, 2017 marks a new milestone as it is the first time Festival programmers have focused efforts to drive attention to a distinct theme. The New Climate program – a Sundance subsection – will build on the festival’s commitment to highlighting environmental films and projects with 14 documentaries, short films, and even virtual reality experiences. John Cooper, director of the festival, beautifully summarized this year’s program by stating “The films in this year’s festival show the human sides of issues, people and places we don’t often see. Independent filmmakers, with their fearless, bold perspectives, are challenging us to witness our world’s whole story.”
Ironically, Sundance’s 2017 climate-themed edition kicks off on the eve of President-Elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. Despite the seemingly intentional timing due to the nature of Mr. Trump’s views on climate change, the festival’s founder insists it is strictly coincidental. Robert Redford told The New York Times, “We don’t want to be tied into the current political cycle. That would be a terrible mistake, if we start to drive the story, when our whole mission is to support filmmakers who have stories they want to tell.”
Regardless of the desire to prevent politics from driving stories, politics and climate-related topics are deeply – and often inextricably – intertwined. Understanding both sides and the nature in which they affect each other is paramount to generating meaningful change. Let’s take a brief look at just a few of this year’s films seeking to promote this understanding:
An Inconvenient Sequel
Ten years ago the world was first introduced to An Inconvenient Truth – former Vice President Al Gore’s landmark documentary about the world’s climate crisis. At the time climate change was an obscure issue compared to the attention it has garnered today. Similar to the 2006 film, Mr. Gore’s new story seeks to educate viewers on global warming. However, this more optimistic edition focuses on “the escalation of the crisis and how close we are to a real solution” rather than strictly on the causes, according to Sundance. The highly-anticipated film will premiere as a Day One screening.
Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman
Directors Susan Froemke, John Hoffman, and Beth Aala tell the stories of five everyday heroes working towards conservation in rural America. This documentary is based on a book by Miriam Horn, which according to its website “explores their work, family histories and the essential geographies they protect. Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman challenges pervasive and powerful myths about American and environmental values.”
VICELAND’s new documentary series focuses on the impact climate change has on North America’s indigenous people, providing viewers with “a rare glimpse into the front line of indigenous-led resistance,” according to Mack Lamoureux of VICE. The Sundance screenings will feature three episodes: Apache Stronghold, Sacred Water, and Red Power.
Filmmakers Shaul Schwartz and Christina Clusiau provide a deeper look at society’s treatment of animals as commodities, and the businesses of big game hunting, breeding, and wildlife conservation in this controversial documentary. According to Sundance, “Trophy will spark fierce debate as it digs deeper to examine the state of our planet and the conscience of humanity.”
Water & Power: A California Heist
This film dives into the politics and the “water barons” profiting from the environmental and economic crisis brought on by California’s historic drought. Marina Zenovich’s documentary exposes these profiteers while challenging viewers to face a new reality as the divide between water ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ grows.
Calling all independent filmmakers! Rainforest Partnership is accepting submissions for Films for the Forest through the end of January. Visit http://filmsfortheforest.org/ for a chance to have your film screened at SXSW and $1,000 cash prize!