Over the past several years, Washington has been blessed with some fabulous film festivals, from AFI Docs (formerly known as Silverdocs) to D.C. Shorts, dedicated to often overlooked short-form filmmaking. Even Filmfest D.C., which has teetered on the brink of oblivion recently, seems to have hung in there for at least one more year.
Amid all these comings and goings, for nearly 25 years the Environmental Film Festival has quietly dug in and carved out a distinct identity as that rarity of a theme-based festival that nonetheless possesses a discerning curatorial vision. Showing more than 100 shorts, features and documentaries at theaters, embassies and cultural institutions throughout the city, EFF proves that a strong agenda — in this case educating viewers on a range of issues affecting the built and natural environment — can happily co-exist with artistic merit.
This is a festival, after all, that has played host not just to the often festival-shy filmmaker Terrence Malick, but also the naturalist E.O. Wilson; oceanographer Philippe Cousteau and Sir David Attenborough; author Peter Matthiessen; and documentary director George Butler. Butler may be most famous for his 1977 movie “Pumping Iron,” which introduced a charismatic Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world. But he has become even more celebrated for films having to do with exploration, conservation and the natural world: This year, Butler’s newest documentary, “Tiger Tiger,” about the endangered Bengal tiger, will make its U.S. premiere at EFF.
Founded 23 years ago by Flo Stone, a veteran film programmer who initiated the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History in 1977, the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital (its official title) now holds the title as the largest and longest-running showcase of its kind in the country. As such, it helped introduce local audiences to the term “fracking” when “GasLand” made its local debut in 2010; scooped such films as “Food, Inc.” and “Fed Up” with 2007’s “King Corn,” about high-fructose corn syrup; and premiered such classic works as “Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time,” Niki Caro’s “Whale Rider” and “Manufactured Landscapes,” about the photographer Edward Burtynsky.
This year’s lineup looks just as edifying and enticing, with a special focus on climate change and local premieres of films about efforts to save endangered species, India’s monsoon season, snow leopard conservation in Mongolia and the deleterious effects of golf course construction on world heritage sites. By all measures, the Environmental Film Festival is still beating par.
Environmental Film Festival March 17-29 at various locations throughout the Washington area. www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.
Wild Tales, opening Feb. 27
Timbuktu, opening March 6
Merchants of Doubt, opening March 13
While We’re Young, opening April 3
Pitch Perfect 2, opening May 15