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Hopeful Stories in Dark Times: The SF Green Film Festival

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By Kristin Tieche

Many San Franciscans recall October 2017 as the beginning of the apocalypse. As fires raged in Napa and Sonoma counties, San Franciscans woke up to their cars covered with ash. The color of the sky morphed into an ominous shade of brownish orange. At hardware stores, N95 particle masks were completely sold out. On one particular day, the air quality in San Francisco was reported to be worse than in Beijing. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and called the fire season of 2017 the “new normal.”

These are dark times. Every year, the fires get larger and larger. The temperatures get hotter and hotter. In the rainy season, the floods and landslides bring more and more destruction. Climate change is no longer something we can prevent. It’s here.

There’s even a psychological condition called “eco-anxiety,” brought on by the paralyzing fear that we’ve already come to the edge of the climate change cliff and there’s no point now in trying to change course.

In the month of September, San Francisco will host the Global Climate Action Summit, an invitation from Governor Brown to world leaders to convene in San Francisco and re-evaluate this suicidal path we’re on. Just like the Paris Accord of 2015, new climate goals will be set, and the world can regain hope that our elected officials have our best interests in mind, despite the negligence of the current U.S. administration.

Many local environmental organizations have partnered with the Summit to offer events to the broader public about climate change and how we – as individuals, and as a community – can make a difference.

One of these events is the 8th Annual San Francisco Green Film Festival. Rachel Caplan, festival founder and CEO, believes that storytelling can offer the bright ray of hope we need during these dark times: “When people think about climate, carbon, parts per million and the atmosphere, it becomes very overwhelming and abstract. They’re unsure what they can do about it. What we are trying to do at the festival is say that there’s a million places where you can hook on. Just find one thing that you’re really passionate about and dive right in.”

The festival, which launches on Thursday, September 6th at the Castro Theater, offers filmgoers a full week of over 50 environmental documentaries and over 100 guest speakers. Caplan believes the films will spark discussions and connections that lead to aha moments for audiences: “It’s great to feel part of something, being in a theater with like-minded people to watch films and share in discussion. To see what’s happening at the frontlines and watch stories that go beyond the headlines, that shows us that there are ways to make a difference, to bring a greener future, and hope.”

Caplan explains how the four elements inspired the theme of this year’s festival: It’s Elemental. “Air, water, soil and fire – these basic elements are vital. They can also be destructive. The harder we push at them, they push back even harder at us.”

One of the standout films that dives deep into the elements this year is Wilder than Wild by Bay Area filmmakers Kevin White and Steven Most. The film takes us to the frontlines of wildfires in California from 2013 to 2017, examining the causes and effects of the state’s most historically devastating fires. But the film also offers hope: “It’s solutions oriented, looking at the positive work by the [National] Park Service and the Yurok tribe to allow controlled burns and different ways to steward our forests.” Wilder than Wild screens on September 8th  at the Cowell Theater.

Dirt Rich, a feature documentary by Bay Area filmmaker Marcy Cravate, focuses on regenerative agriculture, reforestation and wetland restoration as the most viable solutions to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and reverse global warming. Caplan explains, “It looks at carbon sequestration in the soil as a solution to the climate crisis.” Dirt Rich screens on September 9th at the Cowell Theater.

The film festival also reaches audiences beyond the typical environmental activist choir. This year, there will be two free sneak previews of the upcoming film Youth v. Gov for San Francisco high school students on September 7th at the Cowell Theater. The film follows the legal battle of 21 American youths who sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights by willfully causing the climate crisis. In addition, to encourage youth attendance, anyone under 18 years of age and students with a valid I.D. can see any film at the festival for free.

Caplan hopes that audiences will come away from the screenings inspired to take action on environmental issues. She describes her motivation in curating a program of stories that offer solutions and hope: “Communities around the world have banded together and overcome huge environmental threats. They have found a way to win. That’s what we hope audiences will take away.”

San Francisco is lucky to host not only the Global Climate Action Summit, but also the largest environmental film festival on the West Coast at the same time. The city is sure to be abuzz with talk about climate change and what we can do about it. Caplan reflects on the value of creating a public platform for these important films. “These stories are urgent, and the moment is now. Also, what happens in San Francisco doesn’t stay in San Francisco. It starts here and ripples out across the country and across the globe. We’re changing the world one film at a time.”

The San Francisco Green Film Festival opens on Thursday, September 6th and ends Friday, September 14th. Tickets are available online at

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