Film Fest Full of Inconvenient Truths

Posted March 14, 2007 at 3:54pm

Long-mired in the world of public television, the nature film has finally bloomed and come of age. The genre once equally synonymous with both picturesque beauty and mundane serenity has pulled itself out of the marsh of passivity. It has moved beyond animal documentaries to tackle globalization, modernization and climate change. It has hired a publicist and would now like to be referred to as environmental film. It has, in short, finally gotten angry.

With buzzwords such as alternative energy occupying the public consciousness and the success of former Vice President Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” still garnering headlines, it’s no surprise that a large number of entries at the 15th annual Environmental Film Festival, which starts today in the nation’s capital, undertake distinctly political themes. Success for these films has grown from scientific praise to include critical accolades, box-office earnings and real political action.

One movie looking to capitalize on this potential is “The Last Winter,” a thriller about a team of oil-drillers in the Arctic region of Alaska. Soon after two scientists, played by Jamie Harrold and indie-film icon James Le Gros, are sent to examine the environmental impact of the operation, a team member is found dead. In the dead of winter, temperatures suddenly begin to rise, plunging the crew into disorientation. They are forced to question more than their sanity as their operation is disrupted by eerie sights that they cannot explain. The end result is a supernatural ghost story akin to “The Abyss,” except the inexplicable force is not alien life; it is an abused planet.

Some of the other highlights are “Addicted to Oil: Thomas L. Friedman Reporting,” a documentary featuring the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist about the geopolitical conflicts surrounding American energy consumption, and “Hurricane on the Bayou,” an IMAX film narrated by Academy Award winner Meryl Streep that follows four Louisiana musicians’ tales of Hurricane Katrina. “Source,” a selection from the Czech Republic, exposes people’s lack of knowledge about the effects of nuclear power. It documents the people of Baku, Azerbaijan, who unknowingly herd livestock on polluted land, let their children play in toxic waste and reap none of the benefits of the recent oil boom in the country.

Interspersed among the newer offerings are a few notable classics such as Jacque Tati’s “Playtime,” originally released in 1967. The almost wordless film is an intensely choreographed farce following the misplacement of the endearingly awkward and old-fashioned Monsieur Hulot (Tati), who struggles to make his way through the modernized maze of Paris. “The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson,” a CBS special that aired in 1963 just after the Silver Spring environmentalist’s ground-breaking book against the dangers of pesticides was published, also will be shown. CBS received more than 1,000 letters of protest and suffered the loss of three sponsors to air it.

Running today through March 25, the Environmental Film Festival will present more than 115 animated, documentary, feature and children’s films from 27 countries, 50 of which will be Washington, D.C., United States or world premieres. For a full schedule of movies, venues and times, as well as information on how to obtain tickets, consult the festival’s Web site, www.dcenvironmentalfilmfestival.com.