From farmers to fishermen to forests

Nature’s beauty and its beasts come to light at Environmental Film Festival

Documentary uncovers the truth about the world's oceans and a disposable lifestyle. —Courtesy Plastic Ocean Ltd.

Updated: Thursday, May 25, 11:42 am

Now in its third year, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center’s annual Environmental Festival brings eight films, and two shorts, to the Island this weekend for an in-depth look at many of the issues facing the earth now and in the coming years. The festival will take place in cooperation with the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS).

Titled “Nature as Inspiration,” the festival begins Thursday, May 25, with a reception followed by “The Bullish Farmer.” This documentary spotlights John Ubaldo, nicknamed “John Boy,” who quit his lucrative Wall Street job to become a farmer.

“It wasn’t until I left Wall Street that I realized how toxic our food system has become,” he says. “We are literally being poisoned every single day.” The film offers a powerful message about the dangers of Big Ag and GMO crops, and promotes the small farm model that should take its place. Ubaldo will attend the reception and screening with co-directors Ken Marsolais and Nancy Vick, along with Vineyard farmers, to discuss the issues raised afterward.

Beginning with the 15th century artist Hieronymus Bosch’s painting about the environment that he grew up with, Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio narrates “Before the Flood” on Friday. As U.N. Messenger of Peace, DiCaprio travels the world looking at the effects of climate change and the efforts to prevent it. Martha’s Vineyard 2016 Vision Fellow Jonah Maidoff will join Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students after the screening to discuss climate change.

Also playing on Friday is “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman,” which visits the West’s mountains, the Great Plains, and the Mississippi Delta, and their thousands of conservationists. A panel discussion will follow with Jim Athearn of Morning Glory Farm, Shelley Edmundson of the Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman’s Preservation Trust, and a fisherman from the trust.

Films on Saturday include a short, “Reefs at Risk,” and the heartbreaking documentary “A Plastic Ocean,” which examines the consequences of our society’s reliance on plastic products. Vineyard poet Jennifer Smith Turner will read her poem, “Sea life,” and members of the Vineyard Conservation Society will discuss the Island’s plastic bag ban.

Also on Saturday, “Trophy” tells the grim story of how poaching of rhinos, lions, elephants, and other endangered species pushes these creatures toward extinction. Scene after scene shows hunters grinning with their kills. The large sums of money to rack up their trophies ironically may help sustain rhinos and other endangered animals. A short film on the role of drones used in prevention of poaching precedes “Trophy.”

A reception and award ceremony for the student art competition is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Sponsored by VCS, the theme of the work on display is “Discovery.”

Sunday starts out with a special free screening for children of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax,” about the threat to trees, with special guest photographer Astrid Tilton. Ms. Tilton will talk to children about how they can make a personal impact in helping the environment. Children are invited to arrive a half-hour early to receive VCS-provided reusable canvas bags and decorate them with inspiration from copies of “The Lorax: How to Help the Earth.” The Vineyard Conservation Society will explain its efforts to keep the Island safe from global warming.

Perhaps the most moving film is “Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock” made by filmmakers Josh Fox, James Spione, and Myron Dewey. It tells the story of the protest against construction of the Standing Rock pipeline under the Missouri River from the protester’s viewpoint. Law enforcement officials have repeatedly assaulted the native people who peacefully protest the river’s potential contamination, invaded their sacred grounds, and destroyed the village they have set up. Once Donald Trump signs permission to build the pipeline on the second day of his presidency, the battle seems lost, but these “water protectors” point out that protests have sprung up all over the U.S. and other parts of the world. They describe how people can fight the corporate entities that fund the pipelines, for instance by taking money out of banks that fund them. Two of the film’s directors, Myron Dewey and James Spione, will attend and lead the post-screening discussion, along with co-producer, writer, and director Josh Fox via Skype. Members of the Wampanoag tribe will open this event, and their Men’s Drum Circle will perform. Also speaking in the panel will be Tanyette Colon of Alison Rose Levy, environmental journalist and host of the weekly radio program “Connect the Dots,” will moderate. 

The festival will close with “Tomorrow,” which considers what the future holds for the environment from the perspective of current issues. A discussion will follow on how to create a zero-waste lifestyle, the establishment of a zero-waste week at a local school, and on the role of renewables as a solution to environmental deterioration. Goddess Garden Organics and Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank are sponsoring the festival.


For festival information and tickets, see