All about Earth
Film festival celebrates human connection to the planet, sustainability as a way of life
Several years ago, amid an eight-year backpacking trip around the world as a way to shed ties to the American culture of consumption, Allen Myers found himself deep in the Amazon rainforest of Colombia, filming native tribespeople performing musical offerings to the Earth.
The audio was captured and sold on CD, with proceeds benefiting restoration efforts in the region. The documentary Myers filmed featured the music, plus interviews with members of the Yagua tribe, who shared some of their secrets to living in harmony with the planet. All of the electricity required to power the operation was provided through solar panels.
“When I came back to the States, I looked for a film festival that operated in that same manner and there wasn’t one,” the 33-year-old Myers said during a recent visit to Chico from Los Angeles, where he now resides. “I thought, ‘Someone should do that.’ That person turned out to be me.”
That film, titled Wapapura: A Musical Journey Into the Amazon, was included in Myers’ inaugural Earth Day Film Festival in 2015, held in San Francisco. Last year, he moved the event to Joshua Tree, where participants camped out using off-grid power. This year, he’s bringing it closer to his hometown of Paradise. It will run this weekend, April 20-23, at the El Rey Theatre, and will feature 44 films, ranging from 1 minute to an hour and a half, plus 10 of the filmmakers will be on hand to discuss their films.
Holding true to his mission of “celebrating earthminded film and art using clean energy and zero waste goals,” the sponsor, Arcadia Power, which specializes in clean energy, will provide the power—generated by wind—to operate the El Rey during the festival.
“Basically, [Arcadia Power] approached PG&E and said, ‘This customer wants this energy,’” Myers explained. “It may cost more—but it puts demand on renewables and away from fossil fuels.”
Also understanding the toll travel takes on the planet, Myers said he encourages smaller sponsors to host satellite festivals in their home environments. To that end, there will be screenings all over the world this weekend, from L.A. and San Francisco to Belgium, India and Jamaica. It’s appropriate, considering the films are from all over the world. Some are relatively close to home while others focus on the Standing Rock movement and indigenous tribes in Canada also fighting for water rights. And others still come from as far away as Peru, Burkina Faso and the U.K.
“The films aren’t all environmental documentaries,” Myers said. “I want to get away from the idea that we’re alien beings on this planet—we, too, are part of the Earth. The health of the planet is tied to the health of humans. So, the films represent different perspectives of humans on Earth, as a way to celebrate Earth Day.”
John de Graaf has been making environmental films for 40 years, 30 of them for PBS in Seattle. His renown was enough to get an award named after him at the internationally recognized Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, which he’s attended for several years now as an honored guest.
“In the course of that, I fell in love with the community and got to learn its story,” de Graaf said by phone. “I felt it could be inspiring to other rural communities around the country.”
That story is the subject of his latest film, Redefining Prosperity, which will be screened at the festival. It examines the environmental effects of the Gold Rush and the revitalization of the area by back-to-the-land types in the late 1960s. This growing population wasn’t necessarily popular among the locals, many of them descendents of miners—but that all changed when a dam proposal threatened the natural beauty of the Yuba River.
“It didn’t matter whether you were a Democrat or Republican … everyone loved that river,” de Graaf said. “The fight to save the river united the community in a really important way—they’d found a common value—and they started understanding each other better as people. That led to a transformation of Nevada City toward a great interest in sustainability overall.”
Nevada City’s story was also the impetus behind de Graaf’s And Beauty for All campaign, which he’s been unveiling alongside screenings of the film. The goal, he said, is to “reduce some of the polarization in America by working together toward beautification of our surroundings, our neighborhoods.” He’s hosting a workshop on the campaign at Wine Time this Friday (April 20), a lead-off into the film festival.
“I’m excited that Chico is doing it,” he said of the festival. “It’s an example of this kind of thing happening in many places. I feel that Redefining Prosperity will be relevant to Chico, that a lot of the issues will carry over.”
Myers is banking on it, saying he chose films with universal appeal. Ultimately, he wants the festival to become an agent for change, where like-minded people can get together, network, discuss ideas and actually do something. To further that mission, he awards films for things like how sustainable the production was, or the film’s ability to illuminate a new idea or sustainable movement.
“We want to change the things that we celebrate,” Myers said.