EVER WONDER what a baby warthog looks like when it's nursing? Whether an eagle chick can eat an entire snake? Or how many water buffalo it takes to face down a hungry lion? You're in luck.
Among the offerings at this year's Environmental Film Festival -- some 130 movies from 30 countries -- are 10 film programs for children. Shown as single and double features, paired with special events and grouped in mini-festivals, the children's program offerings include everything from "Dance & Movement," a one-minute animated short from South Africa that proves synchronized dancing is easier when you have six legs, to "Whale Rider," a feature-length coming-of-age story from New Zealand that was an audience award-winner at both the Toronto and Sundance film festivals.
They also include "Serengeti Symphony," which addresses those unanswered questions about nursing warthogs, hungry baby eagles and water buffalo bent on intimidation. The last work by the venerable Dutch wildlife filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, the film features only brief narration at the beginning and end. Otherwise it's wordless, set to a score that includes many familiar symphonic pieces -- sort of like "Fantasia" without the cartoons. In one scene that captures the richness and interconnectedness of Serengeti wildlife, a zebra, cheetah, wildebeest and elephant all appear in the same frame. But Disney this is not. The brutality of nature is also on display. In one sequence, a mother giraffe repeatedly drives off the hyenas that are gathering around her sickly baby. When morning finds the baby giraffe dead, the hyenas close in on the carcass and the mother gives up the fight.
Other children's programming includes "The Cost of Cool," a documentary about the dangers of consumerism aimed at teenage audiences; "Oscar-Winning Films for Families," a trio of animated award-winners with environmental themes; "George Washington Carver" and "Eco-Rap: Voices From the Hood," a double feature with a nature walk during intermission between films; and "Stories From the Seventh Fire: Summer," an animated take on two Aboriginal legends.
Several of the screenings will be followed by activities designed to underscore the films' themes. After "Songbird Story," a movie about migratory songbirds' dependence on vanishing tropical rain forests, kids will be invited to tour the Rolling Rainforest, a mobile exhibit created by the Discovery Creek Children's Museum last year. The walk-through display, housed in a 53-foot tractor-trailer, "has the sights, sounds and smells of a neo-tropical rain forest," says Chris Politan, the museum's director of development. Visitors who look closely will see real animals -- a boa constrictor, a giant millipede, patent-leather beetles and a rosy-haired tarantula -- in addition to lifelike replicas of some 80 species.
The "Toons for Tots" program, which includes eight short animated films, will be followed by an open house with media arts program manager Joshua Muntain in the Capital Children's Museum animation studio. Visitors will get a chance to try their hands at both clay and cartoon animation. "The hope is to let kids see a place where cartoons are actually created," says Muntain. Appropriately, the program includes "Self-Portrait (1889)," a movie created at one of the museum's clay animation camps.
"Pale Male," a documentary nominally about the red-tailed hawk that suddenly appeared in New York's Central Park in 1991, is an affectionate portrait of the people who gather daily to watch the bird. (This generally means watching him hunt and eat the park's pigeons and squirrels -- a process that's not for the squeamish.) After the hawk nests above the cornice of a Fifth Avenue apartment window and successfully breeds, the hardcore watchers literally camp out as they wait for the chicks to leave the nest for the first time. It pays off; they are able to rescue and re-release one young hawk whose initial attempts at flight are not an unqualified success.
After the film's screening on Thursday, environmental educator Lois Napier and her red-tailed hawk, Isabel, will visit with the audience. Isabel, who is blind in one eye, cannot be returned to the wild. "She is an amazing bird," Napier says. "She's very calm." The hawk has appeared before school groups and senior citizens, and twice at Camden Yards. Napier, who has been fascinated by raptors since a falconer brought a hawk to her seventh-grade biology class, says she hopes exposure to Isabel will help teach kids respect for wildlife.
"If you can change a few minds," she says, "you've done your job."
ENVIRONMENTAL FILM FESTIVAL -- Thursday through March 23 at several venues. For more information, call 202-342-2564 or check the festival Web site at www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.
Children's programming at the Environmental Film Festival (all programs are free unless otherwise noted):
Thursday at 10:30 -- "Pale Male"; screening followed by a discussion with environmental educator Lois Napier and her red-tailed hawk, Isabel. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G St. NW.
Thursday from noon to 3 -- "Songbird Story"; screening followed by a tour of Discovery Creek's Rolling Rainforest exhibit. Rock Creek Park Nature Center, 5200 Glover Rd. NW.
March 15 at 11 -- "Serengeti Symphony." National Geographic Society, Grosvenor Auditorium, 1600 M St. NW.
March 15 at 11 -- "World of Wonders: My Life as an Ant." National Museum of Natural History, Baird Auditorium, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
March 15 at 3 -- "Pale Male." National Museum of Natural History, Baird Auditorium, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
March 16 at 11 and 1 -- "Toons for Tots"; after both screenings, Joshua Muntain, media arts program manager at the Capital Children's Museum, will host an open house at the museum's animation studio. Capital Children's Museum, 800 Third St. NE.
March 18 at 1:30 -- "Stories From the Seventh Fire: Summer." Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library, 3160 16th St. NW.
March 19 from 10 to 12:30 -- "George Washington Carver" and "Eco-Rap: Voices From the Hood"; between the films, Jawara Kasimu-Graham of the George Washington Carver Outdoor School, Inc., leads a walk on the nearby Dr. George Washington Carver Nature Trail. Anacostia Museum & Center for African American History and Culture, 1901 Fort Pl. SE.
March 20 at 1:30 -- "Stories From the Seventh Fire: Summer." Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Branch Library, 1701 Eighth St. NW.
March 20 at 4 -- "The Cost of Cool: Youth, Consumption & the Environment"; followed by a discussion with Mary McCracken, the festival's associate coordinator and children's program coordinator. Tenley-Friendship Branch Library, 4450 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
March 22 at 10:30 -- "Whale Rider." National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
March 23 at 2 -- "The Old Man and the Sea," "Crac!" and "The Man Who Planted Trees"; screenings introduced by Environmental Film Festival founder Flo Stone. $15, children 13 and younger $5. For reservations, call 202-357-3030. National Museum of American History, Carmichael Auditorium, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.