Starting tonight and running until April 20, the San Francisco Green Film Festival is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in environmental films and connect to the local environmental community. The Festival describes itself as “the leading movement for films and conversations about people and the planet.”
There are many great films at the festival in their own right, which engage us emotionally, which makes us want to take action. These aren’t mere depressing info-dumps, but films made with passion, with gorgeous visuals, that will make you contemplate your place in the world and the wonders of the natural environment. In other words, you need not be environmentalist to find something to love: these are films for film lovers.
The festival kicks off with Josh Fox’s documentary How to Let Go of the World (and Learn to Love Climate Change) at the Castro Theatre tonight. Rather than focusing on delivering information — though it does this very well — the film is designed to energize viewers into action. By following activists and environmental experts around the world, Fox spotlights the people on the front lines of the climate change fight whose enthusiasm and optimism is infectious. Fox’s own passion is evident throughout the film and helps make this a compelling narrative. It’s never preachy because all the facts are delivered as emotional information — this film goes for the heart rather than the head.
Luc Jacquet’s documentary The Ice and the Sky (4/18 at 8:30 p.m., Roxie), which closed last year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a poetic, visually stunning work about the art of science and the troubling legacy of human activity. Jacquet recounts the life story of glaciologist and climate change pioneer Claude Lorius, whose chance discovery of how to carbon-date ice crystals unfolded a history of earth’s climate going back 400,000 years. His discovery gave us the hockey stick graph charting atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature levels across millennia.
Jacquet pulls us in, inviting us to feel Lorius’ sense of purpose and his wonder at the natural world. Through old home videos and historical footage, we follow Lorius’ path to becoming a glaciologist and his thirty year journey to chart the planet’s climate history. It’s slow, arduous work, but the poetic language of the film’s voiceover is awe-inspiring. And as Lorius discovers that even the legacy of the atomic bond explosions can be found in the remotest parts of Antarctica, we appreciate the world as “Spaceship Earth”: a connected place with limited resources.
Ice and the Sky does for scientific discovery what Spotlight did for journalism, except it’s completely breathtaking and beautiful. The film’s gorgeous cinematography captures not just the Antarctic landscape but of ice crystals up close. It reminds us how learning about the natural world works makes it all the more beautiful. This is what Richard Feynman meant by his famous Ode to A Flower: “The science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower.”
Part of what Lorius loved about the Antarctic was the isolation: the untouched snow and the quiet. Jacquet expertly uses this as a metaphor for just how easily the landscape can be ruined by human contact. SonicSea (4/19 at noon, SF Public Library) and In Pursuit of Silence (4/17 at 1:30 p.m., Little Roxie) extend this idea by looking at how human activities cause noise pollution, with horrifying effects on both ocean and human life.
Screening free at lunchtime on Tuesday, SonicSea explores how the assault of background noise from offshore drilling and the shipping industry is destroying cetaceans’ ability to navigate through echolocation. Whales are getting beached at unprecedented rates as they try to escape the nonstop cacophony, and they suffer internal damage to their hearing and bodies because of the sound. The effective visualizations and explanations of the global ocean and shipping system introduce us to the science of sound and how human activity is disrupting natural habitats. It’s the sort of film that will make you want to become an engineer because the technology is so interesting and you want to fix it.
Extending the ideas behind SonicSea to how they apply to humans, In Pursuit of Silence reminds us of how damaging our everyday soundscape is. Heart rates increase with loud noises, and there are brutal long term effects of being in noisy environments — not just for whales, but for humans, too. By taking us to quiet places around the world, from forests to the sea, the film asks us to listen intently to what we can hear without the onslaught and din of industry. The result is a meditative, relaxing film, that heightens your senses and indulges in the beauty of the landscapes where natural sounds are the only sounds.