Sierra Club Screens Gardens, Jungles, Trash and Rats
by Andrea Meyer
With the current mega-glut of film festivals out there, it's refreshing
to find one whose aims are like none other. Where other film festivals
promote films, filmmakers, sponsors, arts organizations, and the
independent film industry in general, the Sierra Club Film Festival,
which held its second annual event April 17-19, promotes issues.
Preserving the environment, human and animal rights, conservation of
natural resources, and otherwise enriching life on this planet are the
points of this festival.
This year the Sierra Club brought in veteran programmer Steve Grenyo,
who has experience in publicity and programming for the New York Film
Festival, New Directors/ New Films, and the Film Forum, to add film
savvy to its activist objectives. I was brought in as a programming
consultant and to help write the catalogue notes. Knowing little about
the festival or environmental issues, I was first hesitant but now
thrilled to have played a part in the event.
In Grenyo's words, the festival's goal is to "showcase films and
individuals who emphasize the ability for all of us to make a
difference." Jennifer and Leslie Schwerin's humorously horrifying film
"Talking Trash," for example, introduces us to a problem that's so close
to our daily lives, we can smell it. And the cure for the garbage glut
rests in each of our households. Brian Danitz and Chris Zelov's
enlightening "Ecological Design: Inventing the Future" introduces us to
design pioneers who offer concrete avenues to creating environmentally
friendly buildings and cities. Shawn Cuddy's "Voices of Women:
Bernadette Cozart and the Greening of Harlem" illustrates how this
environmental progress can literally start in your own backyard. Cozart
transforms inner city vacant lots into gardens, providing food,
recreation space, beauty and work to neighborhoods in need.
One Lower Eastside community garden that was recently bulldozed by
developers, the Chico Mendes Garden, was highlighted in Mark Chandler's
"The Garden," which was screened Saturday night. The film was introduced
by Jeffrey Wright, activist and editor of Cover Magazine, who was
featured in the film. Wright closed with a plea to the audience to make
a pledge to "defend every blade of grass, to defend the gardens to the
last drop of blood." He ragged on Rudy "Bulliani," the destroyer of
communities, and howled, inspiring the crowd to howl with him.
The short was followed by "Rubber Jungle" by Bill Day and Terry
Schwartz, two "camera guys" who fund their documentaries by shooting
everything from Jerry Springer to phone sex commercials. "Rubber
Jungle"'s a story within a story: it's about how a couple of camera guys
go down to make a movie about the making of a movie about murdered
activist Chico Mendez (a studio production that was canceled after a
reported $8 million had been spent) and end up making a movie about
Chico Mendez themselves. The playful tone and casual narration make this
historical documentary extremely accessible and also totally hilarious.
I can't wait to see what these camera guys decide to stick their cameras
Other festival highlights included Mark Lewis's comical exploration of
New York City's rodent problem "Rat", Ian MacKenzie's "Cry of the
Forgotten Land" about the deforestation that is endangering local tribes
in New Guinea, and Christopher Walker's "Trinkets and Beads", an
infuriating look at the indigenous people in Ecuador whose lifestyle is
being threatened by oil drilling. Each evening film program was followed
by a panel discussion about the issues presented in the films.
All of the selections might not have been great films in the aesthetic
sense, but all of them will wake you up, some even inspiring enough to
get you on an airplane to go save the Amazon. If that isn't greatness,