The 10th anniversary season of the Portland EcoFilm Festival kicks off this weekend, at the Hollywood Theatre. Like the previous two years, the 2023 festival films will be presented across months—rather than a single weekend—and will include a variety of documentaries, shorts, and more.
The fest's spacious schedule is built around a principle of “increasing access to these films for a more general audience,” said Rozzell Medina, the festival's director and programmer since 2021. "There's a lot of benefits to doing it this way. For example, people who go to ecological film festivals tend to be people who already care about ecology. Having our films more spaced out gives us the opportunity to integrate into the fabric of the Hollywood Theatre's year-round programming.”
The opening weekend's crop is good. Each film, in its own way, is a crucial conveyer of cinematic communication—transmitting the environmental impacts experienced by those on the front lines of the global climate crisis. But there's a lot of variety between the showings. If you're forced to choose, or just curious about the cinematic menu, let us be your guide.
Trees and the People Who Love Them
France/Madagascar, USA, 72 min.
Collected under a curatorial title, this program of shorts opens the festival with three films about, you guessed it, trees. Mamody, The Last Baobab Digger and Sentinels are both documentaries, while Life Eternal is a short but sublime animated work depicting a tree's life after it falls. The simple but impactful watercolor-style visuals work with an enveloping sound design to delicately peel back the many layers of an unseen world.
You'll learn some interesting things from Mamody, The Last Baobab Digger. Through it, we visit the village of Ampotaka, in Madagascar, to observe the residents' method of preserving water inside trees. Its undeniable that the first-hand accounts of the residents tell us more than the narration of the videographers, so we're grateful for those scenes. My personal favorite of the three in this program is Sentinels, which profiles a group of activists “tree sitting” in a northern California forest. This nonviolent protest of is not without risk, so the subjects try to protect their identities, even as the patient and observational camera follows them right up into the tree-line. This makes for a quietly kinetic and evocative experience that builds a refreshing authenticity, traps your attention, and never lets you go. A Q&A with the directors of Sentinels follows the showing. (Sat, Jan 14, 2:30 pm)
Ecological Short Films
United Kingdom, Canada, USA, 87 min.
Another lineup of shorts, this family-friendly romp is your best choice for younger audiences, if they can remain transfixed by natural beauty until you get to the puppets. Documentaries Luma and Imalirijit are both atmospheric and heavy on mesmerizing landscapes. The former is a generational saga about those living in the Albanian Alps, and the later follows a young Inuit researcher as he draws from historical photos and studies to unpack the Pond Inlet residents’ history and relationship to water. Finally, Suzie Hicks the Climate Chick uses puppets, music, and sketches—appealing to younger audiences, but melting even this critic's heart—to discuss a future that will inevitably be shaped by climate change. For its target audience, it provides just the right type of entry point to the difficult subject. A remote Q&A with the director of Suzie Hicks the Climate Chick follows the showing. (Sat, Jan 14, 7 pm)
Canada, 2020, 92 min., Dir. Tracey Deer
The highlight of the opening weekend, Beans is a focused coming-of-age story and the most cinematic of the weekend's offerings. Set against the backdrop of the 1990 Kanehsatà:ke Resistance—where a group of Mohawk land defenders protested a golf course expansion in Quebec—the narrative feature follows young Tekehentahkhwa (Kiawentiio), who goes by Beans, as she is swept into the political struggle. Writer-director Tracey Deer uses small moments of emotion and real documentary footage (including moments where the conflict boiled over into bursts of violence) to instill the story with with riveting resonance. Kiawentiio and the other young cast of actors are all outstanding. For those looking for more Reservation Dogs in their life, you might just recognize some familiar faces surrounding Beans. A remote director Q&A with Deer follows the screening. (Sun, Jan 15, 7 pm)
Portland EcoFilm Festival opens this weekend at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy, tickets, $7-10 per film. Look for further screenings in February, April, May, and June, as part of the multi-month programming.