By Maddie Orton
They’re David and Goliath stories of young men taking on oil companies. And explorations into the lives of farmers or fireflies. Above all, the documentaries playing at Princeton Public Library’s ninth annual Environmental Film Festival are stories about our world.
“I think a lot of people are worried about, if they come to an event like this, that it’ll be negative and gloomy, and it’s really actually the opposite,” said Princeton Environmental Film Festival Director Susan Conlon. “They really are inspiring stories.”
Princeton Public Library isn’t alone. Washington D.C., Yale and Ithaca College, also boast environmentally-themed film festivals.
“This event is only getting bigger every year,” Conlon said. “I think people really care about these issues and things that maybe at one point were in the background are now in the forefront.”
Filmmaker Marcy Cravat says one of the great things about documentaries as vehicles for sharing information is the potential for mass appeal.
“There’s this great opportunity to reach a mainstream crowd and not just preach to the choir,” she said.
Cravat is currently working the environmental film festival circuit. Her documentary, Angel Azul, was originally following sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, who first creates statues and then turns those statues into artificial coral reefs. Taylor is still a main focus, but Cravat also spends much of the film exploring the disappearance of coral reefs.
“Around the world, between 50 and 80 percent of the coral reefs are already gone,” she said. “Coral reefs represent about 25 percent of the life in the oceans, so if the coral reefs are gone, right straight away we lose a huge chunk of the ocean ecosystem, which then affects all of the larger species that swim out in the open ocean. So, it’s the start of just a huge, huge decline.”
The experience has turned Cravat, who used to create short docs on artists, into a convert.
“I feel like I’ve sort of found my way into environmental documentary filmmaking, and my next film is also going to be an environmental documentary,” she said.
It’s called Dirt Rich and will focus on efforts to move excess carbon from the air into the ground.
Documentaries piqued Heather Farley’s environmental interests, too. She’s pursuing a masters in business and science to study sustainability.
“I feel like you can learn something so quick — within like an hour or so,” she said. “I’m just trying to figure out these things that I’m interested in and trying to figure out what can bind them together and what kind of ways can I do something effectively about it.”
Farley’s not alone. Cravat’s post-film Q&A quickly becomes a brainstorming session about what can be done to help. And that’s what Conlon likes to see.