Summary of the 2007 Tales from Planet Earth Film Festival
By 7:30 p. m. on Friday, November 2, every seat on the main floor
of the Orpheum Theatre was filled and the much anticipated
Tales from Planet Earth environmental film festival was off and running. After months of planning, Madison,
Wisconsin, kicked off the first night of this three-day event with the local premiere of Daniel Gold and
Judith Helfand's new film, Everything's Cool, following a lecture by renowned author and global
warming activist, Bill McKibben.
The idea for this event was developed years earlier by Gregg Mitman, professor of history of science,
medical history, and science and technology studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After a successful proposal
to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Arts Institute, guest filmmakers Judith Helfand and Sarita Siegel were brought to campus as Artists-in-Residence in Fall 2007 and the environmental film festival became the
capstone event of their semester in Madison.
Mitman, Helfand and Siegel co-taught two courses on environmental
filmmaking: "Green Screen: Environmental Film in History and Action" and a production course
"Non-Fiction Story Telling in Pictures, Moving and Still." Students had their work featured at
the festival in the Trailers from Planet Earth segment. You can read about the trailers and
watch some of them online by clicking here.
The official opening of Tales from Planet Earth followed a reception at the historic Orpheum Theatre in
downtown Madison. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz welcomed a crowd of more than 1000 people who turned out for the
night's festivities. "It's moments like these that I am so proud to be Mayor of Madison," Cieslewicz
told the audience. His introductory remarks pointed to the power of joining the environmental community and the arts
community through this unique event as we face the challenge of global climate change.
Bill McKibben followed in his lecture by insisting, "We need a [climate change] movement
as strong, as big, as morally urgent, as passionate, as willing to sacrifice as the civil rights movement was a generation ago. If we
don't get it then we won't get the amount of change in the time that we need it … we either win soon or we don't win at all." McKibben,
who is featured in the film, Everything's Cool, is currently leading the Step It Up
campaigns to mobilize citizens across the United States in demand of government action on climate change. You can read a synopsis of the evening from the Isthmus Daily Page here.
On Saturday, November 3, Tales from Planet Earth unfolded its programming along two themes:
"Surreal Worlds" and "Close Encounters."
The films of "Surreal Worlds" revealed realities beyond that which the human mind, even in
its wildest fantasies, could imagine or comprehend. Celebrating the ability of nature to play
endless tricks upon us, this stream highlighted the work of French cinematographers in capturing
the unseen and unfamiliar world of animal lives. Audiences laughed and sighed with the stories of minute
creatures in Microcosmos and wondered at the amazing pregnant male seahorses in L'Hippocampe,
part of the Jean Painlevé film screenings.
In its journey into the past, present, and future of ethnographic film, the "Close Encounters"
theme probed the ways in which film transforms our understanding of the relationships of different
peoples, cultures, and environments. Evolutionary ecologist, Randy Olson started off the program
with his award-winning documentary, Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus. Throughout
the day, audiences explored the worlds of Native Americans in Quebec, aborigines in Northern Australia,
coal-miners in 1970's Kentucky and Rastafarians displaced from their homes in Monserrat.
Saturday night, the festival culminated with a dance and reception. Hundreds of festival-goers celebrated with music, food and drink.
On Sunday, November 4, the festival
addressed two very different themes in "Animating Nature" and "Consuming Lives."
As part of the "Animating Nature Series" at the Orpheum Theatre,
filmmaker and penguin expert, Lloyd Davis, presented a film retrospective, "From Frozen Toes to Happy Feet" which
explored how films accurately and inaccurately portray these birds. Later in the day, older children entered a futuristic animated world in the Japanese feature, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds. Audiences also enjoyed some Disney classics like Bambi and Beaver Valley on the big screen.
"Consuming Lives" asked audiences at the UW Cinematheque to take a deep-hearted look at how our own patterns of consumption connect us to a web of economic and material relations that affect human lives in inequitable ways across the globe. From an environmental catastrophe in India to a devastating invasive species in Tanzania, audience members experienced four heart-wrenching and thought-provoking films.
Thank you to all of the 2007 sponsors, volunteers and audience members. Tales from Planet Earth would not have been possible without you!