Environmental Film Festival should not be seen as a marker of successful clean energy policy under the Obama administration

Nicole Lafond

Graphic by Environmental Film Festival organization.

The 21st Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capitol ended its two-week multiple film showing today, arguably succeeding in its annual attempt to advance the public’s understanding of the environment through film.

The focus of the festival this year was rivers and watersheds around the world and the necessities associated with keeping them clean and accessible, the Washington City Paper reported.

The festival featured 190 films from 50 different countries around the world. 110 of the films were local, national, and/or world premiers. This year the festival was more globally-oriented than ever before, In The Capitol reported in its original post about the festival on March 12.

The films themselves are more global than ever before with 85 of the 190 being shown produced overseas. Many include a heavy emphasis on rivers and watersheds throughout the world, which is the overarching theme of the festival this year. Movie-goers and environmental activists alike would be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive or quintessential Washingtonian event.

Across D.C. 75 different venues volunteered their space for the showing of the films. The venues included embassies, museums, universities, libraries and theaters.

The festival began on March 12 with the premiere of “Hot Water,” a documentary about the abundance of uranium in mines in the United States. Live appearance by filmmakers and leading environmental activists followed many of the film showings, giving audience members the opportunity to engage in conversation with experts in a panel form discussion.

Films featured under the river focus include “Lost Rivers,” a documentary that investigates hidden “river systems” located underneath large cities, “Amazon Gold,” a film revealing the “devastations and wonders” along two major rivers in the world, “Rock the Boat,” a documentary about the kayaking trip on the Los Angeles River that led to the implementation of the Clean Water Act, and many more, according to the festival’s website.

Despite a strong focus on rivers and clean water systems, a vast array of topics were covered in this year’s festival; everything from empowering young people to save the natural world to an examination of mud architecture in Mali, The Georgetown Dish reported.

Festival coordinators called the two-week long event a success, Helen Strong, the festival’s public affairs director, told The Washington Diplomat.

This is our biggest and most ambitious festival yet. Each year that is true, but each year we grow over the previous year. The number and variety of films on the environment is constantly expanding.

Despite the film festival’s popularity among locals as well as people across the country, the real policy oriented impact of this festival is questionable to me.

In The Capitol reported the festival served as a marker for the progress the Obama administration has made in environmental policy, specifically clean energy policy, however, The Washington Times reported a lack of validity in the novelty of policies implemented in the past five or six years.

With his recent nomination of Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Ernest J. Moniz to the secretary of energy position, clean energy activists have praised the president’s decision, however, the Times opinion writer, Ellen Wald, said there is “no indication that this selection signals a shift in the Obama administration’s energy policies.”

The energy policies implemented under the Obama administration include talk of renewable energy sources such as electric cars and wind turbines, the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act- which will have the U.S. producing cars with fuel standards of 35.5 miles per gallon, and talk of the extension of tax credits for Americans who buy hybrid or fuel-cell vehicles.

Although claiming innovation, the talk of these clean energy polices have been in the books since the Bush administration, according to Wald.

At the start of his first term, Mr. Bush tasked his Cabinet with assessing the state of America’s energy security and assembling a broad-based, long-term energy policy for the nation. A 169-page report is available to the public and reveals the very uncomfortable and possibly ‘inconvenient’ truth — that Mr. Bush was an environmentalist. His policy promoted the following: a reduction of America’s dependence on foreign oil, more stringent regulations capping greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency through technological innovation, federal support for renewable and alternative energy technologies and environmentally safe exploration of domestic petroleum and natural resources.

If the success of the Environmental Film Festival does not lie in the politics of environmental policies, and rather in public awareness of current environmental issues, then I’d argue the event coordinators achieved their goal. However, I have to question the validity the festival’s purpose of serving as a marker for the Obama administration’s environmental policy success, as it is questionable whether or not he has made any tangible progress in the area of clean energy policies.