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Film festival explores environmental futures amid rapid global change

October 16, 2013 By Meghan Lepisto

Profound questions about possible futures — precipitated by a changing climate, shifting energy resources, and the movement and displacement of people across the globe — will be explored during the Tales from Planet Earth film festival in Madison Nov. 1-3.

More than 35 new and classic films, ranging from science fiction to documentaries, will examine how past and present modes of living have either intentionally or inadvertently contributed to different “futures” for the planet. Discussions with filmmakers will follow several of the screenings.

“We are reawakening to questions of time across the spans of ecological, evolutionary and human history,” says festival founder Gregg Mitman, director of UW–Madison’s Nelson Institute Center for Culture, History and Environment, which organizes and hosts the biennial film festival. “This is not due to nostalgia for the past, but a sense of urgency about the future in a rapidly changing world.”

The festival will span topics such as energy landscapes and nuclear power, environmental justice, immigration and global migrations, cultural resilience and identity, indigenous rights, and climate change impacts.

A roundtable conversation with novelist Ruth Ozeki and award-winning filmmakers Marie-Hélène Cousineau, Zacharias Kunuk and Alex Rivera — which will also feature selected clips from their work — will open the festival on Friday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. in the Marquee Theater at Union South. Ozeki’s most recent novel, “A Tale for the Time Being,” is UW–Madison’s Go Big Read selection for 2013-14.

Admission to all events is free. Among festival highlights, more than a dozen filmmakers and other invited guests will discuss their work and participate in related events. Speakers include:

  • Alex Rivera, the UW–Madison Fall 2013 Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence and director of the award-winning science fiction film “Sleep Dealer.” Rivera is teaching a cross-disciplinary course at UW–Madison, From Ecotopia to Ecopocalypse: Telling Digital Stories about the Environment, with student films produced in the class to be screened throughout the festival.
  • Lucien Castaing-Taylor, hailed as one of today’s most innovative documentary filmmakers and director of “Leviathan.” The film immerses viewers in the sights, sounds, sensations and hardships of life aboard a modern New England commercial fishing boat.
  • Peter Galison and Robb Moss, whose past award-winning film “Secrecy” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, will treat audiences to a rough cut of their latest film “Containment,” which explores the scientific, moral and philosophical questions that surround the disposition of nuclear waste now and into the future.
  • Robert Stone, a UW alumnus and multi-award-winning, Oscar-nominated and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker whose “Pandora’s Promise” offers a thought-provoking analysis of the potential advantages of nuclear energy. Stone will join members of the UW–Madison nuclear engineering program for a post-film discussion of nuclear power.
  • Deepti Kakkar, co-director of “Powerless,” and Eva Weber, director of “Black Out,” whose films examine a lack of access to electricity in India and Guinea, respectively. These documentaries provide the springboard for a panel discussion about the future of the electrical grid and challenges of global electrification.
  • Marie-Hélène Cousineau, co-director of “Before Tomorrow,” the tale of an Inuit family’s struggle for survival, and Zacharias Kunuk, co-director of “My Father’s Land,” an intervention into an iron mine project that expresses Kunuk’s concerns for a native culture, families and future generations.
  • Shania Jackson, Jordan Principato and Ahpahnae Thomas, students at Ashland High School and members of Wisconsin’s Bad River Band of the Chippewa Tribe, who, with the assistance of UW–Madison Professor Patty Loew, created “Protect our Future,” a film exploring the threatened impacts of proposed mining in northern Wisconsin.
  • Andrew Garrison, director of “Trash Dance,” which follows a choreographer’s latest effort to find hope in everyday life: a performance piece about trash collection, with the garbage trucks and sanitation workers of Austin, Texas, serving as volunteer dancers.

Other notable films include “Chasing Ice,” a big-screen look at melting glaciers in the Arctic; “A Will for the Woods,” a documentary about one man’s quest for a meaningful natural burial, to be followed by a related panel discussion; “Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury,” an animated feature set across more than 600 years of Brazil’s past and future; and “Expedition to the End of the World,” a journey of artists, scientists and ambitions sailing toward the rapidly melting massifs of northeast Greenland.

Tales from Planet Earth is a free community event making its fourth appearance since 2007. It has drawn more than 10,000 filmgoers in its three previous runs in Madison.

As it has in the past, the film festival has partnered with local community organizations involved in issues raised by many of the films. This year’s festival also adds an international partner, the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, which will screen many of the festival films in Stockholm in April 2014.

All events will take place at one of four venues: the Marquee Theater at Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St.; UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave.; the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St.; and the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave.