A non­par­ti­san pitch for the planet

Or­ga­niz­ers of the 25th En­vi­ron­men­tal Film Fes­ti­val hope this year’s se­lec­tions speak pow­er­fully to both sides of the aisle

The Washington Post Sunday - - MOVIES - BY STEPHANIE MERRY stephanie.merry@wash­post.com

Dusty Crary is every­thing you’d ex­pect a cow­boy to be. The sub­ject of the doc­u­men­tary “Rancher, Farmer, Fish­er­man” is a fourth-gen­er­a­tion rancher, and he’s a rugged dude with a big hat who trots around on a horse wear­ing fringed chaps and a ban­danna around his neck. He’s also a con­ser­va­tion­ist. “When you got more shin­gles than grass, it’s too late, part­ner,” he says in the movie, just be­fore we see him sur­vey­ing the pris­tine Mon­tana plains and moun­tains around his home. “You’re not gonna get that back.”

In an era when en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism seems ex­clu­sively the Democrats’ purview, it’s sur­pris­ing to see a movie about con­ser­va­tion star­ring a tough guy from Trump coun­try. But it’s also a good re­minder that the is­sue wasn’t al­ways so politi­cized.

On Tues­day, the 25th En­vi­ron­men­tal Film Fes­ti­val gets un­der­way in Wash­ing­ton, and with movies like “Rancher, Farmer, Fish­er­man,” the fest is hop­ing to ap­peal to both sides of the aisle.

Per­haps that’s why, in her wel­come state­ment, the fes­ti­val’s new ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Maryanne Culpep­per, leads with a quote from none other than Ron­ald Rea­gan: “Preser­va­tion of our en­vi­ron­ment is not a lib­eral or con­ser­va­tive chal­lenge, it’s com­mon sense.”

And, lest we for­get, Richard Nixon is the pres­i­dent who pushed plans for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency through the House and Se­nate.

How we got to a place where sav­ing the planet is viewed as a job for hip­pies and lib­er­als is a long story — “I mean en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists did not in­vent the word tree­hug­ger,” Culpep­per said dur­ing a re­cent sit-down. But in the mean­time, con­ser­va­tion­ists are try­ing to re­mind ev­ery­one that tak­ing care of the planet should be a no-brainer for peo­ple of all po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions.

And yet, Pres­i­dent Trump has pro­posed to cut the EPA staff by one-fifth and elim­i­nate dozens of pro­grams ded­i­cated to clean­ing up the na­tion’s air and wa­ter. In­stead, he wants to “pri­or­i­tize re­build­ing the mil­i­tary and mak­ing crit­i­cal in­vest­ments in the na- se­cu­rity,” ac­cord­ing to a March 2 re­port in The Wash­ing­ton Post.

In that case, the White House may want to look into an­other sur­pris­ing film at the fes­ti­val.

The doc­u­men­tary “The Age of Con­se­quences” ex­am­ines how cli­mate change in­flu­ences — what do you know? — na­tional se­cu­rity. Through in­ter­views with mil­i­tary per­son­nel, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and se­cu­rity ex­perts, the film un­rav­els, for ex­am­ple, how his­toric droughts in the Mid­dle East led to mi­gra­tion, which led to desta­bi­liza­tion, which led, in part, to the Arab Spring.

The movie’s di­rec­tor, Jared P. Scott, in­ten­tion­ally shied away from pol­i­tics. He used nei­ther high­rank­ing Democrats nor Repub­li­cans as talk­ing heads in the fi­nal cut. “We even thought at one point of not in­clud­ing the term ‘cli­mate change,’ ” he said, be­cause of the bag­gage that comes with the phrase. “But it didn’t make any sense; we couldn’t re­ally do it.”

“The Age of Con­se­quences” was prac­ti­cally re­verse-en­gi­neered to ap­peal to an au­di­ence be­yond pro­gres­sives. “We started this process by try­ing to fig­ure out how we could talk to peo­ple that might not con­sider them­selves to be in the cli­mate choir,” Scott said. “That was the start­ing point. From there we tried to fig­ure out, okay, what’s the story?”

The movie has the feel of a thriller, with sus­pense­ful mu­sic and mil­i­tary char­ac­ters warn­ing of the but­ter­fly ef­fects of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters around the world. There are no heart­string-tug­ging images of child refugees. In­stead, the film frames the is­sue in a sys­tem­atic way, show­ing how ex­treme weather breeds chaos, re­source scarcity and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

Ac­cord­ing to Culpep­per, “Con­tion’s se­quences” is part of a larger trend of doc­u­men­taries em­brac­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of fea­ture films, fo­cus­ing on main char­ac­ters with story arcs in­stead of broad top­ics. Be­fore head­ing up the fes­ti­val she was a film­maker and pres­i­dent of Na­tional Geo­graphic Stu­dios. She’s also see­ing an in­creased em­pha­sis on ac­cu­racy and sci­ence in films that strive to be more than opin­ion-based polemics.

“Wa­ter & Power: A Cal­i­for­nia Heist,” for ex­am­ple, looks noth­ing like a typ­i­cal doc­u­men­tary. It’s aptly billed as a real-life “Chi­na­town.”

The movie was pro­duced by doc­u­men­tary king Alex Gib­ney and pre­miered at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, shock­ing au­di­ences with the tale of wa­ter barons who have taken ad­van­tage of pri­va­ti­za­tion to hoard and reroute nat­u­ral re­sources while en­tire Cal­i­for­nia towns have dried up, leav­ing re­sipo­lit­i­cal dents with no drink­ing wa­ter.

Di­rec­tor Ma­rina Zen­ovich had made a lot of pro­file films be­fore this project — she may be best known for “Ro­man Polan­ski: Wanted and De­sired” — so “Wa­ter & Power” was a de­par­ture, but a wel­come one.

“I think it’s a pub­lic-ser­vice film,” she said dur­ing a re­cent phone con­ver­sa­tion. “It’s kind of a duty to do this kind of work . . . . I think the time has come for us to pay a lit­tle more at­ten­tion to it.”

She doesn’t see this as a po­lit­i­cal movie so much as a movie about breath­tak­ing greed. Like­wise, “Rancher, Farmer, Fish­er­man” di­rec­tor John Hoffman — also head of doc­u­men­taries for Dis­cov­ery — sees his film as more than a movie about three un­likely con­ser­va­tion­ists in the heart­land.

“Our power as a na­tion, and the power of any coun­try, so much de­pends on sovereignty, and sovereignty de­pends on the abil­ity of a coun­try to feed it­self,” he said. “If th­ese land­scapes are not pro­duc­tive, if we de­plete the soil and aren’t able to grow the food to feed this coun­try, if we de­plete our oceans so that we can’t fish them to feed the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, then we put our­selves and our sovereignty at risk.” Talk about na­tional se­cu­rity. Culpep­per is quick to point out that not all of the movies at the fes­ti­val are is­sue-driven doc­u­men­taries. There’s also “Born in China,” a new Dis­ney na­ture doc about panda bears and golden mon­keys. The highly an­tic­i­pated ad­ven­ture film “The Lost City of Z,” star­ring Char­lie Hun­nam and Robert Pat­tin­son, also gets its lo­cal pre­miere at the fes­ti­val.

Still, she knows there will be peo­ple with pre­con­ceived no­tions.

“I some­times wish we could call it the ‘Nat­u­ral World Film Fes­ti­val’ or some­thing else, be­cause I think the name does ring cer­tain bells for peo­ple,” she ad­mit­ted. “Some­times it sounds like we’re earnest do-good­ers.”

“It doesn’t sound fun,” her col­league He­len Strong, the fes­ti­val’s pub­lic re­la­tions di­rec­tor, chimed in.

“It’s more fun than it sounds,” Culpep­per said with a laugh. “We’ll use that as our tag line.”


CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Con­ser­va­tion­ist Dusty Crary in “Rancher, Farmer, Fish­er­man”; a refugee in “Age of Con­se­quences,” which looks at cli­mate and na­tional se­cu­rity; a panda in the Dis­ney na­ture doc­u­men­tary “Born in China”; and green and fal­low or­chards in “Wa­ter & Power: A Cal­i­for­nia Heist.”




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