Enough already! Enough of continued damage to coral reefs, enough wasting of food and water, enough of mining that destroys ecosystems, enough gas harvesting at the expense of preserved land, enough of climate change and climate change deniers.
Enough is the theme for this year’s Princeton Environmental Film Festival at Princeton Public Library, running Thursday, March 19, through Sunday, March 29. Films and speakers selected for the 11-day festival look toward sustainable means of food harvesting and fishing, protecting wildlife, returning walkable communities and fireflies, achieving zero waste, educating kindergartners in a forest, and reversing nature deficit disorder.
There are films for both adults and children, who will inherit the Earth: an animated film about a seal child who embarks on an epic journey, films about saving animals, and storytime with author Jared Rosenbaum, who will read from his new children’s book, “The Puddle Garden.”
“The films present an opportunity to think about sustainability from a personal perspective in terms of what we buy, how much we think we need, and what we discard as consumers,” says festival director and youth services librarian Susan Conlon. “They also raise the broader question of where we see the tipping point to change course when we decide ‘enough is enough.’”
The festival includes a number of films made in the Garden State, including “No Pipeline” by Princeton Community TV’s executive director George McCollough and his wife, Anna Savoia; and “Field Biologist” by Edible Jersey editor Jared Flesher, whose earlier films have screened at PEFF.
“Antarctic Edge: 70° South” was produced by Dena Seidel, founding director of the Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking in the Mason Gross School of the Arts, and follows a team of scientists who choose a life at sea in the race to understand climate change in the fastest winter-warming place in the world.
I’ve never dreamed of going anyplace as frigid Antarctica, but “Antarctic Edge” brings the natural beauty of the sun glaring off water and ice right to the community living room, as Princeton Public Library has been called. The viewer feels like she’s sailing through the frozen tundra as the camera beautifully depicts ice floes, red skies, boats splashing through water, and penguins and seals. As I watch ice and snow bleeding into clouds at the horizon line, I find myself reaching for another layer of clothing.
The voiceover tells us this is the land of the gods, and that it takes longer to get here than to the moon. But it’s not all beauty as we flash to scenes of tropical storms that are the result of rising sea levels, and buildings collapsing into the Ganges. Flash to a scene of Naderev Sano, lead negotiator for the Philippines at the Climate Conference in Doha, uttering the mantra: “If not us then who, if not now then when, if not here then where.”
Seidel and her photographer, Chris Linder, began their six-week voyage with a team of scientists led by New Jersey-based oceanographer Oscar Schofield from Punta Arenas, Chile, the southernmost port to Antarctica. Battling waves 60-feet high, the scientists have, over the course of 20 years, seen winter sea ice decline and temperatures increase by 11 degrees Fahrenheit, six times greater than the global average. Seidel was there to document their work for the National Science Foundation.
Headed for the U.S. base at Palmer Station, the journey took place in our winter, Antarctica’s summer, so temperatures were in the 40-degree range. “Studying climate change in the most remote part of the world presents scientists with serious challenges as they travel through Antarctica’s perilous terrain,” says Seidel, who also faced those challenges.
With 22 hours of daylight, scientists worked round the clock, trying to gather the maximum amount of data. Besides, there’s not much else to do out at sea. “It was hard to sleep on the bumpy ship and stormy seas,” says Seidel.
The cold and wavy conditions made it hard to film. Seidel’s fingers and the camera batteries would freeze. One camera broke when a big wave landed on deck. “There’s no repair shop. You’re basically on Mars,” she says. Of all the things that could go wrong on the journey — they were a week away from rescue — Seidel’s biggest fear was coming back and not having enough footage for a feature film.
The Highland Park resident — a mother of three — called home by satellite phone every day. She missed her 8-year-old’s birthday “and he won’t let me forget it.” She phoned his second grade class as they were doing a project on penguins and sent pictures of the Adelies penguins she was seeing on Charcot Island.
“They were hot and sickly,” Seidel reports. Schofield and his crew were looking at the Adelies, whose population has declined by 90 percent, as an indicator of climate change.
The Adelies need sea ice for their habitat. Scientists are putting radio tags on the penguins to see how far they have to travel for food. The scientists are also using robots to continue the exploration while they return to New Jersey. Ocean-gliding robots use sensors to measure ocean-growing plants such as krill and phytoplankton. Krill — crustaceans at the bottom of the food chain — eat phytoplankton. Every living thing in the ocean depends on phytoplankton and krill. Diminishing sea ice and plant life means the Adelies will likely be gone in five to ten years.
“It’s a race against time,” Schofield says in the film. “Even if we could stop climate change tomorrow, the oceans have so much heat stored and will continue melting ice. The rising ocean temperatures in Antarctica means warming in the U.S. at nearly twice the global rate. Hundred-year storms like Sandy are expected to become 10-year storms. If we don’t adapt, our fate can be similar to the Adelies.”
“Antarctic Edge” engaged undergraduate film students in pre and post-production of the film. “The Rutgers Film Bureau provides hands-on learning experiences for students to craft and shape science stories for the screen and to collaborate with scientists working to solve problems,” says Seidel. Beginning this fall Rutgers will offer a bachelors of fine arts in digital filmmaking.
Costa Boutsikaris graduated from Rutgers in 2012 with a bachelor’s in visual arts and film, before Seidel’s program was born. His film “Inhabit” is about permaculture.
Links to permaculture frequently pop up on my computer screen. I follow the links, though I’ve never really understood permaculture until viewing “Inhabit.” The film takes an encyclopedic approach set against a visual smorgasbord. Contrasting cityscapes and smokestacks with farm fields, supermarket lanes, and traffic clover leafs with pastoral scenes, “Inhabit” tells us how our current system is flawed — our industrial economy with centralization and long-distance transportation goes against what evolution has done so beautifully on Earth.
For most of human history we have been getting our food from forests. Using the forest as teacher we can create a permanent agriculture — a permanent culture grounded in the resilience of biology. When Ben Falk brought sheep to his farm in Vermont he realized how underutilized grazing material was in creating pure soil. “Grazing animals create lushness on the site,” he says, “putting more fertility into the soil.” Rather than factory farms, which create massive amounts of waste and leave soil devoid of nutrients, a smart plan involves using waste to help regenerate. Turnips, radishes, and rice grow from Falk’s grazing land.
While a senior at Rutgers, Boutsikaris, who grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York, studied permaculture in New York. He discovered permaculture wasn’t limited to farming and gardening — it could be applied to designing our homes, energy systems, economies, and culture.
“At Rutgers I found myself researching and watching all kinds of films about climate change, food insecurity, pollution. There was no end to the very real ecological and agricultural emergencies that the earth was confronted with. It was depressing and over whelming.” Permaculture — a man made habitat that works in harmony with nature — offered a simple solution.
“Inhabit” takes us from Falk’s Vermont farm to suburbs and inner cities, from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, Maine, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, showing us how native plants bring animals, soils, and fungus to life, where “spiritual enrichment can be found in regenerative design.”
There is no such thing as waste, we learn. Pedal People transport compost from curbside to places where it will build healthy soil, reducing what is sent to the waste stream. A composting toilet harnesses human manure from a family that eats healthy organic food to further nourish the garden, rather than using energy to export it from the site. Storm water draining into sewage systems — resulting in raw sewage overflowing into streets — can instead go toward rain gardens and rooftop gardens. Green roofs not only provide food but help absorb rainwater and provide creative jobs. Abandoned gas stations become gardens, and a green playground is a place where children can grow food naturally. One farmer creates a probiotic mix to feed his plants, supplanting the need for pesticides — plants resist disease with a healthy balance of bacteria and insects.
Steve Gabriel, author of “Farming the Woods,” teaches agroforestry at Cornell and co-founded Wellspring Forest Farm in Mecklenburg, N.Y., where he inoculates logs with shiitake mushroom spores, decomposing logs as he creates a nutritious crop. When he spots the occasional slug on a mushroom, he says, “You don’t have a slug problem; you have a duck deficiency.” Ducks eat the slugs and provide eggs at the same time.
The earlier mentioned Boutsikaris will be interning at Wellspring Forest Farm this summer. “I have become very inspired to start a forest farm myself one day. I plan to continue down the path of ecological agriculture while also sharing that process through film. Visual storytelling is a crucial component to communicating any idea — especially for movements like this one — because of its need to help rewrite the cultural stories that are being told in our society.
“There is so much work that needs to get done in order for us to restore the great ecosystems of the earth while simultaneously feeding and nurturing its inhabitants,” says Boutsikaris. “Permaculture presents a very clear roadmap for beginning that process and if applied on a large scale could bring millions of new jobs and opportunities for folks looking for purpose and livelihood. It’s the plan where the plants save the planet.”
Says permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison: “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”
Not only does PEFF wake us up to important ways in which our planet needs to be saved, but it does so with great beauty. These films show us the splendor of the Earth when everything is in balance and offer serene vistas of the outdoors — sunsets and moonrises, blanketing snow and fields of flowering edible plants — at a time when cabin fever is killing us. Enough!
Princeton Environmental Film Festival, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Thursday, March 19, through Sunday, March 29. www.princetonlibrary.org/peff.
Some screenings will be followed by talks in-person by filmmakers: “Angel Azul” (Marcy Cravat); “Field Biologist” (Jared Flesher); “No Pipeline Say the Friends of Nelson” (George McCollough, and Anna Savoia); “Antarctic Edge: 70° South” (Dena Seidel); “Brilliant Darkness: Hotaru in the Night” (Emily V. Driscoll and James K. Fischer); “The Overnighters” (Jesse Moss); “The Wound and Gift” (Linda Hoaglund); the East Coast premiere of “Inhabit” (Costa Boutsikaris); “Divide in Concord” (Kris Kaczor and David Regos); and “Occupy the Farm” (Todd Darling). Other film programs will have sessions with filmmakers via video conference or feature local speakers.