Environment is front and center at the 10th annual Film Festival


This year’s offerings at the 10th annual Environmental Film Festival inspire both awe and deep concern for the state of our planet. Speaking about the festival’s origins, founder and executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society Richard Paradise says, “What drove me to do this is that the Vineyard has always been an environmentally and conservation-focused community. The Vineyard Conservation Society helped it get off the ground, and remains a collaborator since the first festival.”

An opening reception kicks off festivities on Thursday, May 23, at 6:30 pm with live piano by David Hannon in the lobby of the M.V. Film Center, an hour before the screening of “Songs of the Earth.” “I chose it as the opening night film because it brings home the point about how we all individually relate to the environment,” Paradise says.

In this Norwegian documentary, we follow the 85-year-old father of the director through the majestic beauty of the country’s most scenic valley, where he grew up, and where generations have lived alongside nature to survive. The film is an audiovisual composition in which sounds of the earth harmonize with the score to create music, and a breathtaking journey.

On Friday, May 24, at 4 pm is “Canary.” In this biographical documentary, we witness the extraordinary life of Dr. Lonnie Thompson, who, despite having had a heart transplant, lives his life as an explorer measuring climate change in very severe locales, taking ice plugs out of glaciers to recover these priceless historical records before they disappear forever. “In this case, the canary in the coal mine is the climate crisis that we are in,” Paradise explains. 

At 7:30 pm on Friday, “Giants Rising” reveals the secrets and our ever-evolving relationship with Pacific Coast redwoods — the tallest and among the oldest living things on Earth. Living links to the past, redwoods may play a role in our future, including their ability to withstand fire and capture carbon; they may offer clues about longevity, and may even enhance our well-being. But how will redwoods continue to reveal their magic as they’re pushed to their limits? We hear from biologists, artists, indigenous peoples and others racing to understand and safeguard these trees from the legacy of logging that nearly wiped them out.

Films begin Saturday, May 25, at 4 pm with “Farming While Black,” which examines the historical plight of Black farmers in the U.S., and the rising generation reclaiming their rightful ownership of the land while reconnecting with their ancestral roots. In 1910, Black farmers owned 14 percent of all American farmland. Over the intervening decades, that number fell below 2 percent, as a result of racism, discrimination, and dispossession. 

The film chronicles three farmers’ efforts to reclaim their agricultural heritage. As the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York, Leah Penniman finds strength in the deep historical knowledge of African agrarianism — farming practices that can heal people and the planet. Influenced and inspired by Karen Washington, a pioneer in urban community gardens in New York City, and fellow farmer and organizer Blain Snipstal, Leah galvanizes community around farming as the basis of revolutionary justice.

At 7:30 pm on Saturday is the Emmy-winning documentary “We’re All Plastic People Now,” with a discussion afterward with director Rory Fielding. We know that plastic is all around us … in our air, water, items we buy, and so much of what we throw away. But we learn far more disturbing truths about where else plastic resides in this groundbreaking film, which tests the film producer’s blood, and four generations of family members, for chemicals derived from plastic. 

The festival continues Sunday, May 26, at 1 pm with short films, including “Sounds of the Ocean,” a beautiful cinematographic journey that takes its visuals and sounds from the ocean. Following this will be “Drowning,” which will be discussed afterward with director James Hutchinson. As climate change accelerates and sea levels rise, the documentary delves into its harsh impact on the Vineyard and the Island’s future.

Next up at 4 pm is “Inundation District,” which will include a discussion with the director and journalist for the Boston Globe David Abel. In a time of rising seas and intensifying storms, Boston, one of the world’s wealthiest, most educated cities, spent billions of dollars erecting a new district along its coast — on landfill, at sea level. Unlike other places imperiled by climate change, this neighborhood of glass towers, housing some of the world’s largest companies, was built well after many scientists warned of the threats. The city, which already has more high-tide flooding than nearly any other in the U.S., called its new quarter the Innovation District. But with seas rising inexorably at an accelerating rate, others call the neighborhood the Inundation District.

Closing out the festival on Sunday at 7:30 pm is “Downwind.” The film chronicles the nuclear testing that happened between 1951 and 1992 in Mercury, Nev., when 928 nuclear weapons were detonated. The film features members of the Shoshone nation and others still lethally affected by the radioactive fallout. Martin Sheen narrates this harrowing exposé of the country’s disregard for everyone living downwind. Director Mark Shapiro will join afterward for a discussion via Zoom.

In the spirit of his festival’s tagline, “Inspiration from Nature,” Paradise has curated a moving selection of documentaries that will fill us with passion and a desire to do right by our natural world.

The M.V. Environmental Film Festival runs from Thursday, May 23, through Sunday, May 26, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. For tickets and information, go to mvfilmsociety.com.