Environmental Film Festival Expanded My ‘Woke’ Credentials, But That’s a Good Thing – Better Than ‘Unconscious’

I’m writing this column in the immediate aftermath of attending the Colorado Environmental Film Festival. I was only able to watch 20 or so of the 90-plus films featured during the sixteen 2-hour sessions, but I plan to watch others this week. (You can access all the films at www.CEFF.net for $75, which gives you seven days to view any collection you log into by Sunday, March 5.)

My favorite films were: The Sacrifice Zone; Wings over Water; Heart of Maui; Somehow Hopeful; Earth Girl; The Witness Is a Whale; and A Rally for Rangers.

Many of these films raised my consciousness regarding different issues facing humanity and America, which got me thinking about the term “Woke,” which is applied negatively against those of us with similar awareness of certain issues. In the parlance of the MAGA folks, I’m part of the “Woke mob.”

Obviously, the term is adapted from “awake” or “awakened.” One thing for which we can thank the previous administration is that the division it spawned awakened people like me to portions of our history (and our present) of which we may have been less aware. I’m thinking of books like The 1619 Project and Caste,  which taught me things I did not know about our nation’s sad legacy of enslavement and racism, which are at the heart of America’s “great experiment.” For example, I didn’t realize that the 13th amendment abolished slavery, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” an exception that was exploited throughout the former confederate states by convicting Blacks of petty or false crimes and imprisoning them so that the prisons could lease them to plantation owners to continue their enslavement.

Yes, I’m awake to many aspects of our history to which the MAGA mob is (and would like to remain) unconscious. I’m awake to the environmental injustice suffered by the minority communities close to the Suncor plant in north Denver, which was the topic of a CEFF film. I’m awake to the broken promise of “40 Acres and a Mule” which underlies the calls for reparations to descendants of the enslaved.

I prefer “woke” to “unconscious.”

The Colorado Environmental Film Festival Is Back Live Next Weekend – Don’t Miss it!

Golden Real Estate has proudly co-sponsored this unique film festival for at least a decade. For the first time since 2020, the festival is back live at the American Mountaineering Center (AMC) in downtown Golden Feb. 23-26, but most of the films can also be viewed online starting the following week.

During the pandemic, the festival (“CEFF”) was only virtual, and I loved it because I was able to see far more films than I could have seen in person.

Meanwhile, if you go online to https://ceff2023.eventive.org/films, you get to read descriptions and view trailers for all 97 films in the festival. Below is a screenshot from that website, showing just three of those films’ thumbnails.

I was particularly drawn to “The Power of Activism,” and look forward to seeing the full 53-minute Australian film about six young women activists out to save the planet. “Purple Haze” is about the purple martin, described as “America’s favorite backyard bird.”

An in-person “all access” pass costs $90 and can be purchased at the same website. The virtual pass costs $75.

As before, the films are organized into 28 “collections” such as the “Activism Collection” (my favorite), each of which can be purchased for $12 if you don’t want to buy the all-access or virtual pass. All the information is on that website. Click on the “Menu” link at the top left of the website to see the various pages with all the information you need to attend the festival.

As in past festivals, there is a free (but ticket required) “Community Opening Night” on the 23rd which includes announcement of the winning films in various categories. It starts at 6 pm in the AMC auditorium and is followed at 7:15 by the screening of seven of the award-winning films, ranging from a one-minute PSA to a couple 23-minute films. I never miss this event, which is held in the AMC’s Foss auditorium. 

Although CEFF is an international film festival, several of the “collections” feature films made by Colorado filmmakers. There are also 16 accessible collections which are either captioned, subtitled or have no dialog. One collection is of the “Top 10 Best Kids’ Short Films.”

Other collections which caught my attention include: Art in Nature; Climate Chaos; Feathered Friends & More; Innovation & Inspiration; Off the Beaten Path; People to Know; Special Places; Unique Solutions; and two Wildlife Collections.

If you are reading this column in time, there’s a free Festival Preview at the University of Denver’s Sturm Hall on Thursday, Feb. 16th, 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

The Foss auditorium is the main venue for the festival at the American Mountaineering Center, but a second screen is created in the AMC’s event center to accommodate all the screenings, which begin at 10 a.m. from Friday through Sunday. The virtual access ticket (which I’m going to get) allows you seven days to watch any or all of the films on demand.

The festival features young filmmakers from around the nation including Hawaiian youth-made films like “Sunscreen Standoff,” and local Colorado young filmmakers like Taylor Saulsbury, who gives voice to her generation’s climate anxieties, creating portraits of resistance and resilience in “Right Here. Right Now.”

Join one of the free virtual “Green Bag Lunch & Learn Series” to hear from local experts as they dig deeper into current event environmental issues, including a closer look at the impact of Climate Chaos on young people’s mental health (Wednesday, March 1st at noon).

By attending the festival in person, you also get to participate in Filmmaker Q&A Sessions after many of the films to chat live with the filmmakers in attendance or watch one of the many recorded sessions to hear the secrets and intriguing behind-the-scenes stories of the films featured in the festival.

This Climate Change Movie Is a Must-See

Of all the movies I watched during last month’s Colorado Environmental Film Festival, “Kiss the Ground” was by far the most impactful. It won the festival’s top  award, and deservedly so.

You will learn so much, as I did, from this 84-minute documentary about agriculture, farming, carbon sequestration and climate change. Schools can stream a 45-minute version of it free, including if you are doing home schooling. Visit www.KissTheGroundMovie.com to stream it. The rest of us can rent it for a dollar, or find the full-length documentary on Netflix.

The central thesis of the movie is that the mass tillage and spraying of farmlands under industrial farming is destroying the soil’s natural ability to sequester carbon. By the end of the movie you’ll be convinced that “regenerative farming” is the solution of our CO2 crisis.

The narrator of the movie is Woody Harrelson, who starts out by saying that he had given up on saving the planet from the effects of climate change, until he realized that the solution is “as old as dirt.”

A key character in the documentary is Ray Archuleta, a conservation agronomist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly the Soil Conservation Service created by FDR to deal with the causes of the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, when excessive tillage of farmland had caused massive erosion and dust storms.

The goal of NRCS agents like Archuleta is to reduce tillage and the use of chemicals that damage the soil. Achieving that counter-revolution would allow the soil to absorb and sequester enough carbon to solve the climate crisis, the film asserts. It’s a powerful argument.

I challenge you to watch the first 10 minutes of this film, and you will want to watch the remaining 74 minutes. You’ll get a huge education about the importance of soil health to the future of our planet. There’s a trailer on the website.