Hike the Divide Portland EcoFilm Festival

It’s starting to feel like people might be paying attention.

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Maybe that’s wishful thinking. While the possibility of climate change was raised as early as 1896, scientists’ concerns didn’t start burgeoning until the late 1960s. That’s when the warnings began, each year growing increasingly dire; that’s when the evidence started mounting, becoming steadily more conclusive.

Most decided not to listen. They decided to keep having cars and hamburgers and kids, figuring someone else would fix it. Nobody did, so now we’ve got two bad options: Do nothing and die, or do what we can to make our oncoming catastrophe just a bit less catastrophic (and also die).

That message, at least, seems to be resonating: The popular conversation about climate has felt different the past year or so, in large part thanks to the work of the Sunrise Project, Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg, and even the climate plans of 2020’s more forward-thinking presidential candidates.

It’s still not enough—but thankfully, things like the annual Portland EcoFilm Festival keep reminding people why and how they should fight. Now in its sixth year, the fest offers a weekend of features and shorts that show us what we’re working toward, how we’re doing it, and what we need to do better.

Hike the Divide: A Conversation About Climate Action on the Continental Divide Trail (screening Sat Sept 28) finds director and through-hiker Connor “Bard” DeVane speaking with activists throughout the West as he wanders from Canada to Mexico. The affable DeVane has a good hiker’s straightforward eye (“Things are the way we are because we allow them to be,” he points out); he’s also smart enough to devote much of his film to the accomplishments and ideas of women, people of color, and the historically marginalized communities who stand to lose the most from climate change.

Likewise, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall (Sat Sept 28), directed by Alexander John Glustrom, documents what little is left of Mossville, Louisiana—a largely Black town founded by former slaves that’s since been leveled to make room for more than a dozen industrial facilities owned by South African petrochemical corporation Sasol. Mossville’s few remaining residents—a tiny, ever-dwindling community facing chronic illness—paint a grim portrait of commercial gains at the expense of health and history. “Our struggle,” says one man in Secunda, South Africa—another town all but ruled by Sasol—“is a connected struggle. It’s a human struggle, for human survival.”

Too many eco-themed docs have a tendency to get touchy-feely—skimming past science and practicality in favor of feel-good hippie cheerleading bullshit—and that’s a vibe that’s hard to shake with Dammed to Extinction (Fri Sept 27) and its tinkling piano score. Still, it provides a unique, wide-angle take on the eternal debate over dams in the Pacific Northwest: As dams lead to the deaths of salmon, the deaths of salmon lead to shrinking orca populations between Seattle and the San Juan Islands.

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Connections between ecosystems and people also play a role in two of the fest’s more notable shorts: Becoming Forest Trees (Sat Sept 28), a thoughtful, affecting portrait of Zen priest Genpou Chisaka, who pairs indigenous trees and plants with interred ashes to restore rural Japanese farmland, and Giants (Thurs Sept 26), about residents in Portland’s Eastmoreland neighborhood who fought a developer to save several giant sequoias. “If anyone ever says that activism doesn’t work, if anyone ever says that sitting in a tree doesn’t make a difference,” says protest ringleader and occasional Mercury contributor Arthur Bradford, “they’re wrong.”

There’s tons more—each year, this well-curated fest crams in a lot—but even if you only catch one or two movies, it’ll be worth the effort. As time runs out, the Portland EcoFilm Festival is determined to make people pay attention—and to reward their attention once they do.