There's delicious, dark irony to be reaped from any news report of contentiousness or bullying among environmentally minded groups, and to describe Charles Jonkel's International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Mont., as "threatened by a host of environmental imitators" ("It's a Jungle Out There," by Ann Japenga, Calendar, April 11) set that story squarely within such a context.
The truth isn't as dicey. As a member of the "host" (read: three) of new environmental film festivals in the United States (the International Environmental Film Festival in Boulder, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and the Aveda U.S. Environmental Film Festival in Santa Monica), I can assure you that no plans exist to wage a battle for the "best endangered species film," nor does anyone intend to imitate Jonkel's fine festival into extinction.
What is going on is the mirroring of a film festival trend that's occurred internationally for years, especially in Europe. Who knows why the concept of environmentally themed film and video festivals has taken so long to snag a foothold in the United States? Perhaps these other countries became more acutely aware of their looming environmental dilemmas well before the onset of the '90s or the 20th anniversary of Earth Day.
At present, more than 25 environmental film/video festivals are listed in the International Film Festival Directory.
Europe is home to the majority (France holds six environmental film festivals annually; Italy, five; Spain and Portugal, two each).
There are so-called "single themed" festivals, which focus on films and videos surrounding one issue, such as wildlife, mountains or marine mammals. Others address a variety of issues using visual media, speakers and panel discussions. Most of these festivals are staged within a 10-week period each fall, yet none complains of overcrowding, nor is there a lack of product.
While the U.S. festivals resemble one or more of their international counterparts, few similarities exist among the four.
Three hold competitions, Boulder does not; two (Missoula and Jackson Hole) are dedicated to wildlife films and videos; Santa Monica and Boulder cover a broader spectrum.
Three are located in Rocky Mountain states, one in a major metropolitan area. To my knowledge, Missoula is the only festival in the world to address the technical accuracy of wildlife portrayals in film and video; Boulder is the only festival to hold a World Congress of Environmental Filmmakers, and Wolfgang Baye is the first world-class natural history filmmaker to start his own festival (Jackson Hole).
Still, Japenga's article suggests that four different environmentally themed film festivals in the United States create a more claustrophobic arrangement than three-to-four times as many held within a land mass one-third the size.
As far as I'm concerned, given the power of film and television to transmit the environmental message across all international boundaries and to motivate individual environmental change, the more the merrier!
I hope our numbers in the United States triple within the next two years.