Last month I went to the UK Green Film Festival at the Shortwave cinema in London as part of research for my book on Green Documentary. The festival has been founded by Chris Brown and John Long, is supported by a property developer GVA, Friends of the Earth, and Environment Films, and takes place in Leeds, Cardiff and Glasgow as well as in London.

I turned up on the first night, without a ticket, expecting to find a largely empty cinema, as most eco-docs I go to see are watched by very small audiences. But here it was different. Two of the three screenings I attended, Michael Sternberg and David Osberberg’s The Plan and Werner Boote’s Plastic Planet were sold out, in fact, so I had to wait for returns. I didn’t mind the wait though, as not only were the films all worth seeing – I watched PlanEat directed by Shelley Lee Davis and Or Schlomi as well – they were also all followed by panel discussions which were even more interesting than the films.

Environmental film festivals, the first of which was founded in the 1970s, have been springing up at an accelerated rate worldwide since around 2000, encouraged even more by the global success of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. I have been looking at how the eco-doc has been evolving during this period towards the ‘bright green’ agenda of writers and commentators like Alex Steffen, author of Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century. The message is that each one of us can discover a role to play in sustaining the earth and our life on it and the films reflect this pluralist, democratic approach by telling all kinds of stories about individuals who have been inspired to take up an environmentally relevant project.

My favourite individual story from the screenings was from The Plan about a descendent of Charles Darwin, somewhat cruelly given the nickname of ‘the missing link’ at school. He recovers from a near-death experience during an advertising stunt to buy a huge chunk of environmentally significant land in Australia in order to protect it against developers. He has connected with his ancestor by protecting some very dusty and rare species of shrub.

I gather the plan is to continue the festival next year. I’ll be getting my tickets in advance next time!

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