This year’s urban-themed Environmental Film Festival has an interesting angle for landscape architects. The Washington, D.C.-based festival, now in its 22nd year, will be showing 200 films on a program titled Our Cities, Our Planet that focuses on sustainable cities and the impact of urbanism on our environments. The festival is primarily documentaries, but it also includes experimental films, shorts, children’s films, archival gems (some with live orchestral accompaniment), and works in progress. Many of the screenings during the weeklong festival, which runs March 18–30, 2014, are free, and include panel discussions with filmmakers and activists. Below is just a selection of the films that caught our eye (with the EFF program descriptions), and a full program and schedule can be seen here.
WATERMARK. From Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier, and the photographer Edward Burtynsky, who collaborated on the 2006 film, Manufactured Landscapes, Watermark transports us all over the world, revealing the extent to which humanity has shaped water and how it has shaped us.
THE HUMAN SCALE. For 40 years, the Danish architect Jan Gehl has studied human behavior in cities, starting with what he calls “Life Between Buildings.” Gehl has documented how modern cities repel human interaction and argues that we can build cities in a way that takes human needs for inclusion and intimacy into account. In Copenhagen, Gehl has inspired the creation of pedestrian streets and bike paths and the organization of parks, squares, and other public spaces throughout the city.
RIVERS AND TIDES: ANDY GOLDSWORTHY WORKING WITH TIME. Acclaimed around the world for his site-specific earthworks, beautiful and ephemeral sculptures in the open air made of ice, mud, leaves, driftwood, stones, and twigs, Andy Goldsworthy thinks incessantly about “the veins that connect things.”
THE HUMAN TOUCH (clips). Ten years after making Rivers and Tides, Riedelsheimer and Goldsworthy started a new collaboration, exploring more aspects of Goldsworthy’s work and how it has changed over the years.
SAND WARS. Sand seems quite insignificant, yet those grains of silica surround and affect our lives. Every house, skyscraper, and glass building, every bridge, airport, and sidewalk depends on sand.What are the consequences of intensive beach sand mining for the environment and the neighboring populations?
THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT. Narrated by Sean Penn, this powerful film exposes the David-and-Goliath battle activists are waging against the increasingly deregulated U.S. chemical industry and its $52-million-per-year lobbying effort, even as rates of autism, cancer, and infertility continue to increase
GREEN ROOFS IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. Keith Anderson, director of the District Department of the Environment, is an advocate of green, or vegetated, roofs to help contain rainwater and reduce the volume of stormwater runoff. Anderson explains why green roofs are especially effective in Washington, D.C., and what his department is doing to encourage them.
EARTHECHO EXPEDITION: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE BUILD CITIES? Philippe Cousteau and the EarthEcho Expeditions team journey across the Anacostia River and underground in Washington, D.C., to explore the impact of urbanization on the water cycle. They visit the new sewer tunnels being constructed as part of D.C.’s Clean Rivers Project.
REBALANCING. Is Capital Bikeshare an environmental success story? Filmmaker Tim Cone, a Washington, D.C., resident, seeks to answer this question as he interviews the people who run Capital Bikeshare, as well as those who use, or don’t use, its bicycles.
TINY: A STORY ABOUT LIVING SMALL. A documentary about home and how we find it, Tiny follows one couple’s attempt to build a tiny house from scratch and profiles other families who have downsized their lives into homes smaller than the average parking space. Through dwellings stripped down to their essentials, the film raises questions about good design, the nature of home, and the changing American Dream.
URANIUM DRIVE-IN. In a boom-bust uranium mining community in rural southwestern Colorado, a heated battle is raging over a proposed new uranium mill—the first, if approved, to be built in the United States in more than 25 years. This latest film from Suzan Beraza, the director of the award-winning 2010 film Bag It, explores the controversy from both sides.
THE GREAT FLOOD. The Mississippi River flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in American history. In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its earthen embankments in 145 places and inundated 27,000 square miles. Part of its legacy was the forced exodus of displaced sharecroppers, who left plantation life and migrated to northern cities, adapting to an industrial society with its own set of challenges.
SHORED UP. When Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast, it was a wake-up call to a new reality for coastal communities. People have always flocked to the seashore, but as global warming and more extreme weather events become the new reality, coastal cities will have to adapt to an increasingly volatile paradigm. We travel to the heart of this climate change controversy—communities in New Jersey and North Carolina where politics, economics, and science collide.
SLUMS: CITIES OF TOMORROW. See and appreciate the amazing resilience of individuals living on the fringes of society. This touching documentary takes you on a revealing journey from Mumbai, India, Asia’s biggest slum, through a suburb of Marseille to a Native American community in the Abitibi region of Quebec, a tent city in New Jersey, and, finally, to the heart of a Moroccan slum.
THE VISION OF PAOLO SOLERI: PROPHET IN THE DESERT. A philosopher, architect, and urban theorist, Paolo Soleri was a man who dreamed of creating an environment in harmony with people. While telling the story of an unprecedented artistic quest, the film documents Soleri’s legacy as an architect and environmentalist and poses critical questions about humankind’s future in a world facing environmental, social, and economic crises.
HELSINKI MUSIC CENTRE—PRELUDE. The architects of the Helsinki Music Centre, which opened in 2011 in the heart of the Finnish capital, sought to create a building in harmony with its urban surroundings and a concert hall with outstanding acoustics.
TOKYO’S BELLY. Get a glimpse of what goes into feeding and servicing this city of 36 million people by visiting food suppliers and workers and otherwise closed places like water and sewage treatment plants and the 16,000-kilometer-long sewage system.
ECOPIA: ECO-CITIES. Hamburg’s HafenCity in Germany and Tianjin’s Eco-city in China were conceived as model cities for sustainable, environment-friendly building. In Hamburg, 10 new housing developments are taking shape on Europe’s largest inner-city construction site, designed to create a vibrant urban atmosphere on the old Elbe River waterfront. The Tianjin Eco-city in eastern China, on the other hand, is being built on virgin land.
THE LEGACY OF JANE JACOBS—Special Presentation and Discussion with Matt Tyrnauer. The filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer discusses his current film in progress, A Matter of Death and Life, which looks at cities through the lens of Jane Jacobs, author of the 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Tyrnauer examines the legacy of Jane Jacobs’s writing on cities, and the economies of cities, with a focus on current-day issues of urbanization worldwide, including the massive urbanization in developing countries, instant mega cities and explosive urban growth.
GROWING CITIES. Examining the role of urban farming in America, this documentary considers how much power this burgeoning movement has to revitalize our cities and change the way we eat. Searching for answers, the filmmakers take a road trip across America to meet the urban visionaries who are challenging the way this country grows and distributes its food—one vacant city lot, rooftop garden, and backyard chicken coop at a time.
MEN AND DUST. Dramatizing the living conditions in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas, which contributed to a high rate of respiratory illness among lead and zinc miners of the area, this experimental film was recently selected by the Library of Congress for the 2014 National Film Registry.
NATUROPOLIS: NEW YORK, THE GREEN REVOLUTION. Today, most of humanity lives in cities. This fundamental change from the past has an impact not only on our way of life, but also on the place of nature in urban areas.
BROOKLYN FARMER: A PORTRAIT OF URBAN FARMING. Brooklyn Grange, a group of urban farmers, faces unique challenges as it endeavors to run a commercially viable farm in New York City.