3,000+ people. 30 screenings. 3 days
November 22nd, 2015
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Tales from Planet Earth (TfPE) 2015 film festival. I dedicated myself to the operation of this event and in return I saw six films and listened to two lectures that would forever alter my view of the world. A lot of things happened this weekend, but I did my best to embody the journalistic spirit and record everything that transpired. This is my experience.
Dr. Mitman and Dr. Boger live on WSUM Radio!
TfPE began in 2007 under the direction of festival founder Gregg Mitman, with the hopes of implementing film as a model for community engagement and critical thinking about environmental issues. But Mitman wanted to distinguish TfPE from other environmental film festivals by focusing on a positive message to empower people and deviating from the traditional apocalyptic lecture styles of modern era films. This is how he arrived at Hope, the theme of the first TfPE film festival.
Since the inaugural 2007 screening, the TfPE film festival has been declared a biennial event, each year implementing a new theme to unite the message of the films. Past themes have included: Justice (2009), Surroundings (2012), Futures (2013), and most recently this year’s cornerstone theme of Belief (2015).
Learning through stories
Two years in the making, Peter Boger is the man behind the scenes who makes all the administrative decisions for operations of TfPE. Boger said he operates under the mantra that issues don’t move people, stories do. Boger watched over 200 films for a preliminary screening, and from that list he refined and narrowed his choices to create a final volume of films that were shown at the festival.
His goal is to find an emotional way to connect to the people viewing the films. Boger views film as a community experience and strives to construct a space that allows people to connect not only with the concepts of the films, but also with the hearts and minds of the people watching it.
“Issues don’t move people, stories do”.
Radio Show Interview
In preparation for TfPE, I hosted the two TfPE coordinators on WSUM 91.7 FM radio with the show “Food, Nature & Good Vibes”. We wanted to know how they unpack broad, overarching themes in nature and unite them under the commonality of the festival theme, belief.
The discussion traveled a road less taken as our topic of conversation shifted from the philosophy of narrative film to Hayao Miyuzaki to #swifties and finally to the TfPE origin story (the actual topic at hand). But our range of topics provided a “soulful” experience that was insightful for our guests, hosts, and audience alike!
And for that I gave the Kai stamp of approval to Mitman & Boger, for their environmental storytelling efforts.
The opening remarks of the festival kicked off with an impassioned discussion from the Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, international documentary film maker Godfrey Reggio, and Bad River Chairman Mike Wiggins, Jr. on the nature of faith and the role of human beings on this planet. The Power of Belief lecture was balanced between the differing perspectives of each of the guests, from Reggio’s eloquently phrased challenges to humanity to Hayhoe’s hopeful data driven projections of the future to Wiggins Jr.’s peaceful acknowledgement of living in the present environment. Three different perspectives, but one statement for the future. We are all in this together. And we will change ourselves to save our changing planet.
From left to right: Godfrey Reggio, Katharine Hayhoe, Gregg Mitman, and Mike Wiggins Jr.
Photography courtesy of Ingrid Laas from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
40 means “a really long time”
Trying to digest 40 films in over the course of three days (just over 48 hrs.) is a challenging task for even the most fervent movie critics. To sit and watch them is one thing, but to critically think about the issues presented in each of them is another beast entirely. Although it isn’t even possible to attend all 40 films, as each are spread across four different venues at the same time for the 2015 festival: the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chazen Museum, the Cinematheque, and the Marquee theater at Union South. Additionally, there was a special room in Upper|House for the Keynote lecture by Hayhoe with a special film screening.
The themes and motifs of the films at TfPE gradually transitioned from searching for interpersonal faith in the world around you to analyzing the truth behind government, media, and public figures that have influence over people’s beliefs about the world. And the documentary Merchants of Doubt was selected as the final film of the festival to encapsulate those ideas. Based off the popularized novel by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes, this film placed a lens over the clash of cultural, ideological, political beliefs and how it affects the interpretation of factual statements from established scientific sources. Viewers were forced to look internally at their own set of beliefs and analyze the credibility of the claims being made by mainstream media news sources, big business commercial campaigns, and scientific organization reports.
Most of the screenings at TfPE focused on the individual’s power to live with nature, but this film centers around the concept of misinformation and mass manipulation. In my opinion this was the must-see-film of TfPE 2015.
The Curtain Falls
Over the course of this weekend, my belief in environmentalism was cracked, broken down into a million pieces, and scattered in the four cardinal directions. The foundations lay bare and open to the world, ready to have a new ideology set in place to form my perception of the world. And while I may exaggerate the influence environmental film has on an individual’s philosophy of life, it would be a great disservice to neglect the impact these films have to spread the message of hope for the future.
I believe in the power of humanity to restore the land and coexist with nature. And after this weekend, I have solidified my belief in the human-environment history and all that has yet to come. I am sure that I speak for us all when I say that this festival awakened me to the cries of the Earth. Mother Nature was speaking. And it is our turn to listen.
Kai Brito is a senior in the Environmental Studies department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.