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Santa Monica film festival gives attendees a hands-on look at environmental issues

The Blue Planet Film Fest combines short and long films about the environment and animal welfare with a farmers market.

September 07, 2009|Carla Hall

Under a large shade umbrella in a Santa Monica courtyard, Lucie and Estella nibbled on cherry tomatoes and greeted moviegoers at a film festival screening Sunday morning.

As film festival guests go, they were unusual -- they're chickens.

Even for chickens, they are exotic -- Belgian bearded d'Uccles. Lucie is a deep orange hue speckled with black and white. Estella is black and white. And as befits a turn in the spotlight at a film festival, their feathered feet gave the appearance that they were shod in elaborate pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes.

The Blue Planet Film Fest screens short and long films about the environment and animal welfare. Instead of the traditional rituals of cocktails and canapes, festival-goers also could experience some of the issues explored on screen up close.

"I say it's 50% film and 50% hands-on," said festival executive director Mira Tweti, an author, filmmaker and parrot expert, who the put the program together. After morning screenings Friday, which was "Animal Day," guests were shuttled down to the beach to watch rehabbed pelicans be released. The festival ends with "Future Day," which includes films that explore issues such as global warming and food toxins.

Sunday was "Land Day." In one small theater, about three dozen people watched "The Garden," a documentary nominated for an Oscar last year, that followed the drama and politics of an unsuccessful battle waged by a group of farmers to keep a 14-acre plot in South Los Angeles as a community garden.

When the lights came up, Tweti announced that farmers in the various films would be available to chat but not in a formal question-and-answer session. "Instead of having you sit here and talk to the farmers, it makes more sense to have you go out and do some gardening with them," she said.

When participants wandered out of the Santa Monica Playhouse theater, they found a courtyard of farmers with soil, tools, seeds, produce -- and the chickens. It was a film festival with a farmers market and a gardening workshop. Prices were modest: $6.50 for a ticket to one film showing. Another $5.50 bought entrance to the farming festival. Instead of goody bags, there were mini take-home gardens. "These are all things that interested me," said artist Shelley Powsner, who was attending the festival. "Water, food, land." Outside her La Crescenta home, Powsner said, she grows "a mini food forest" in what was once her front lawn.

"You're a hero!" Powsner said upon spying Tezo, who goes by one name, one of the leaders of the urban farmers featured in the documentary, "The Garden."

"Yeah, we took a beating," Tezo said ruefully of the community garden in South-Central. Many of the farmers, including Tezo, relocated to Bakersfield and call themselves the South Central Farmers' Cooperative. He stood by a table with boxes of fresh fruit from his cooperative and vegetable medleys for sale.

The chickens were brought by members of the Dervaes family, whose highly praised urban farming enterprise was documented in "Homegrown Revolution," which also was screened at the festival.

"These guys are hand-raised and tame," said Jordanne Dervaes, 24, of the chickens she keeps on her family's farm, which produces 6,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits annually on a 10th of an acre in Pasadena. "They know their names. They come when I call." Filmgoers asked her questions as they petted the birds.

The festival ends today at the Santa Monica Playhouse and the Santa Monica Bay Woman's Club.

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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