OBX Environmental Film Fest

By on October 4, 2023

Event organized by Peace Garden Project, sponsored by Dare Arts

The Peace Garden Project, a local 501 (c)(3) focused on environmental justice and food justice, is bringing the Outer Banks its first ever environmental film festival next month. And while the topic of the environment and its various challenges can create some pessimism, Peace Garden Project Executive Director Michelle Lewis says these films highlight the beauty of the human spirit and the various landscapes, wildlife and culture these people are striving to preserve.

“I think sometimes people think, ‘Oh my god, an environmental film festival, I’m going to show up and I’m going to walk away from this feeling bad about being in the world,’” said Lewis. “But I think most of these films leave you feeling good about the human nature connection and like, there’s something we can do about it to make it better.”

The film festival, sponsored by Dare Arts, will take place from November 2-4 at Dare Arts and College of the Albemarle’s Manteo campus. Typically, the Peace Garden Project teaches environmental issues to their middle and high school interns in their Youth Leadership Institute, but Lewis says the organization wanted to find a way to educate the larger community on these issues.

“And this is a good way for us to, you know, continue that work of environmental education, but to reach people in the community that we don’t normally reach,” Lewis stated.

Lewis, who has a master’s degree in environmental studies, film, and divinity, says that because we live on a string of small vulnerable islands where so many decisions are based on tourism, it’s important to think about small steps each of us can take to help preserve them. With so much controversy around climate change and environmental issues, Lewis states that if we can take the controversy and politics out of it, we can think about it simply. It’s about preserving the place that we love.

“I don’t have children, but if I did, I would want them to be able to enjoy the beauty of this community in this way that I’m able to enjoy it,” says Lewis. “We have something really special in having clean air and clean water. You know, people all over our country don’t have access to clean air and clean water. They don’t have access to green spaces, they don’t have access to beaches. They don’t have access to wildlife in the way that we do. And so we have something really special that we should be protecting.”

The Peace Garden Project used a platform called FilmFreeway, which is used to host film festivals and screenwriting competitions, among other things, and are utilized by film festivals as large as Sundance. According to Lewis, within just two months of posting their film fest on the site, they had received 47 entries. Filmmakers had the option to enter a few categories including narrative film, documentary film, highlighting hidden stories, best film by an indigenous filmmaker, best film by a black filmmaker, Outer Banks, religion/spirituality and the environment, and emerging filmmaker.

Films were chosen by 14 screeners, which included a variety of people from the community including Lewis herself, some of her youth interns, as well as local environmentalists, and Peace Garden volunteers. Films were ranked in various categories including originality/creativity, sound design, environmental theme, cinematography, performances, and production value.

The films depict people all over the world connecting to their environment, such as indigenous kayakers returning to whitewater kayak the Klamath River during the largest dam removal in history; an Amazon tribe returning deep into the forest to live on their ancestral land after decades of slavery; a 16-year-old director documenting the devastating impact modern farming has on the soil; and an 11-year-old working to save the leatherback turtle in Thailand.

And while there are a variety of films from across the planet, there are many that touch on issues specific to North Carolina and its coast. Lewis notes a few, including one that documents a man who kayaks from Florida to Norfolk, and stops in coastal communities along the way to talk to people about climate change and gets varied opinions from both sides of the debate. Another film zeroes in on hog farming in North Carolina and its devastating effects on the soil, water, and the health of people who live nearby. And another touches on a small town in North Carolina on the brink of collapse due to constant flooding.

To make the festival happen, The Peace Garden Project put together a steering committee, which has been meeting regularly since January to work through the logistics of the festival. This includes fundraising efforts, meeting with potential venues to share the films, finding volunteers to help run the event, and even coordinating lodging for the filmmakers.

“We recognize that there’s a lack of equity often in the film industry. You know, we’re independent filmmakers…we’re often making films with our own money. Sometimes they’re very low budget films, and often they don’t have the resources to travel to a festival when their film is selected,” said Lewis. “So we’re working to put together a lodging for the filmmakers that might need lodging assistance when they get here, so that that’s not a barrier to them being a part of the festival.”

According to Lewis, another great thing about the festival is that the films are family friendly, and a great way for parents to start a conversation with their kids.

“It’s a good way to educate your children if you’re attempting to educate your children about environmental issues, not just here in North American context, but environmental issues that are happening all over the world,” said Lewis.

For those who are new to documentaries or are intimidated by the seriousness of the topic, Lewis says people may be pleasantly surprised.

“I would say, come check it out. You know, I don’t consider myself to be a huge documentary person either. I’m not a huge fan of random documentaries. But these were really thought-provoking, really compelling…It’s about thinking about how we can continue to care for this place, not just for our generation, but for future generations. If we want them to be able to enjoy the beauty of this place the same way that we do, then I think it’s imperative.”


For more information about the Outer Banks Environmental Film Festival visit obxeff.com

 


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