Green issues at a cinema near you

A scene from The Garden
A scene from The Garden
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Washington and San Francisco have one, now Leeds will too. Yvette Huddleston speaks to those behind the UK’s first Green Film Festival.

Like many of the best ideas, the seeds of the UK’s first green film festival were sown over a quiet drink.

John Long and Chris Brown are business partners in the green regeneration company Igloo. They are also keen film fans and as they toasted last Christmas with a festive drink, they began discussing the possibility of organising a green film festival.

“Lots of other countries in Europe and around the world have green film festivals but we discovered that there wasn’t one in the UK,” says Long. One of the world’s biggest events – and certainly one of the longest established – is the annual Washington DC Environmental Film Festival which is now in its 19th year. It was attended by a record 30,000 people over its 12-day period in March this year during which 150 films from 40 countries were screened across 60 venues.

“We had a look at their website and, as with everything on this project, I had to be a bit cheeky,” says Long. “I found out the name of the festival’s executive director, made an educated guess at his email address and sent him a message, explaining what we were trying to do and asking him if he could give us any help.”

He immediately received a reply from Peter O’Brien, who has been involved with the Washington event since it first started. “We had a chat over the phone and then he said, ‘Why don’t you come over?’” Long took up the invitation and went to meet the team.

“Because they are so well known and established as a festival, they are approached all year round by filmmakers asking if they can premiere their work,” he says. “So they were able to put us in contact with lots of people.”

Long was similarly pleasantly surprised when, despite not being able to say what kind of audience numbers the event would attract, Friends of the Earth came on board as a sponsor of the festival and a host of other individuals, groups and companies have all given their time and expertise on a voluntary basis. “It has been really great the way people got behind the project right from the start,” says Long. “I just rang people up and asked them if they could help and virtually everyone said yes. I think people increasingly want to feel that they are doing something worthwhile, contributing to something bigger than themselves.”

A national not-for-profit event, the festival will showcase films and filmmakers engaging with environmental and climate change themes, with Hyde Park Picture House hosting the Leeds leg of the event, which also takes in Glasgow, Cardiff, Leicester and London.

Highlights in Leeds include With Landscape in Mind, which should appeal in particular to a Yorkshire audience. A feature-length documentary presented by landscape photographer Joe Cornish, the film documents his journey from coast to coast across the North of England, starting from the industrial mouth of the river Tees, across the beautiful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales and finishing in the Lake District. The programme will also a include a UK premiere of Planeat, a film that examines the environmental consequences of our diet, French filmmaker Patrick Rouxel’s new movie Alma, a documentary about the Amazon rainforest and The Garden, documentaring the communal garden project which rose out of the ashes of the LA Riots. The feature-length documentary Into Eternity about Finland’s plans to deal with its nuclear waste by building a huge permanent repository hewn out of solid rock will also be shown.

“Our aim is to screen work that is engaging, challenging and informative,” says Long. “At the end of the day we want to get as many people along to see these films as possible so that we can help raise awareness of environmental and sustainability issues, and so we can plan ahead for greater festivals in the future.”

Environment on the big screen

The programme at each of the cinemas taking part will feature a mixture of environmental classics, new films and shorts as well as lectures, discussion panels and Q&A sessions.

The screening of the feature-length documentary With Landscape in Mind at the Hyde Park Picturehouse in Leeds will be followed by a Q&A session with director/photographer Joe Cornish.

For further details about the UK Green Film Festival, which runs from May 20-22, call 0113 275 2045 or visit Tickets are available from the cinema.