Eco-films at AIFF

Filmmakers are kind of like reporters. Both like to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.

And perhaps the biggest untold stories these days are about what is happening to our environment. When a giant redwood's cut down, it doesn't run to the press. When a spotted owl loses its habitat, it doesn't squawk to the nearest documentary producer.

No, these things too often go unnoticed.

But more and more filmmakers — and, I'd like to hope, reporters — are listening to the trees falling in the forest. And then they're telling the stories they hear.

The Ashland Independent Film Festival, which runs April 7-11, is screening more than a dozen eco-films.

I counted at least eight documentaries that have environmental themes, as well as one feature film and four shorts. I don't have room to go into all of the films in detail here, but I'll briefly summarize them.


"Gasland" explores the Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking," or hydraulic fracturing, for natural gas. The new drilling boom is polluting drinking water and air across the country, director Josh Fox discovers. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary: Feature.

"If a Tree Falls: A story of the Earth Liberation Front" recounts the story of Oregon-based activist Daniel McGowan, who was arrested by federal agents in 2005, for his involvement in the Earth Liberation Front, a radical group of environmental activists. In 2006 he pleaded guilty to serving as a lookout for the 2001 firebombing of the Superior Lumber Co. office in Glendale; conspiracy to commit arson and topple a high-voltage electrical tower in Central Oregon in late 1999; and attempted arson and arson at the Jefferson Poplar Farm in Clatskanie in 2001. He set to be released from federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., in June 2013.

"The Last Lions" follows a lioness in Botswana's wetlands as she tries to protect her cubs from rival lions, crocodiles, water buffalo and wildfire. The film documents the disappearance of lions from the savanna.

"Hood to Coast" follows four amateur and professional running teams as they compete in the world's largest relay race, staged annually in Oregon. The film follows the runners from Mount Hood, through forests and mountains, to Seaside.

In "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who directed "Supersize Me," explores sneaky product placement and advertising in films. I count this as an eco-film because so many companies these days are engaged in "green-washing" advertising, trying to convince us that their product is environmentally sound — even if it's not. The more we become aware of subliminal advertising, the more we learn to think for ourselves.

"Saving Pelican 895" tells the story of a bird rescue from the oil slime following the Deepwater Horizon explosion last summer. What I like about this film is that it focuses on the biologists and emergency personnel who worked so hard to save the hordes of animals plagued by the oil spill. Too often their heroic efforts get lost, because the scale of the tragedy is so great.

"The Warriors of Quigang" follows Chinese villagers as they fight against chemical companies that are releasing toxins into the environment, resulting in dying crops and high rates of cancer. The 39-minute film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary: Short Subject.

In "Waste Land," artist Vik Muniz travels to Brazil and visits the world's largest garbage dump, where the poor collect recyclables for money. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary: Feature.


"Letters From the Big Man" follows a hydrologist, Sarah, who is working on a post-Biscuit fire stream survey for the U.S. Forest Service in Southern Oregon. Along the way, Sarah encounters a sasquatch, or Bigfoot.


"Big Birding Day," "Amazonia," "Dried Up" and "Let's Pollute" are entertaining eco-shorts that will be screened alongside other films.

For more information on the films and to buy tickets, visit

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or For past columns see

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