The 2020 Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival goes virtual

3 minute read
'Honeyland' documents the story of a bookkeeper in a remote Macedonian village. (Image courtesy of NEON.)
'Honeyland' documents the story of a bookkeeper in a remote Macedonian village. (Image courtesy of NEON.)

The Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival (PEFF) was originally supposed to take place back in the spring, which has been its traditional slot since it first launched four years ago. This year's festival was to be held, for the first time, at the Academy of Natural Sciences back in April. The pandemic scuttled those plans, as it did for most other area film festivals this year.

Instead, this year's PEFF will take place virtually from September 23-27 and will be hosted by the virtual platform Eventive. The Academy remains a sponsor of the event.

Can’t skip a beat

Alexandra Drobac Diagne, the festival's artistic director, told BSR in an interview that the idea to go virtual was "pretty instantaneous…we did not want to wait another year and miss a whole other year of great films."

"The whole world had to pivot to virtual in every capacity," Diagne said. "We did the same…but generally our fest has been strong in the city of Philadelphia and the direct region. But with a virtual fest, we have the capability of reaching a vast audience. It might be a blessing in disguise that we might reach beyond the region."

One big change from usual, and even from most virtual film festivals that have taken place this year, is that those participating will be able to watch any film at any point during the five days of the festival.

"We are providing 50 films for anyone to watch, at their leisure, within the five days," Diagne said.

The virtual edition of PEFF will include the same lineup scheduled for the planned in-person program, which consists of a total of 50 films, including 11 features and 39 shorts. There will also be talks with filmmakers. Every director of each feature film has agreed to participate in a talk or record a video message.

What to see

The feature films are headlined by Honeyland, the 2019 documentary from the Republic of Macedonia about a beekeeper in a remote Macedonian village. The film, directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, became the first movie ever to receive Oscar nominations for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature. Honeyland is the one film showing that's restricted when it comes to timing; it can only be viewed during a 24-hour period that starts September 25.

Another big feature is the of-the-moment The River and the Wall, filmmaker Ben Masters' documentary that explores the Texas wilderness where the president has promised to build a wall.

In all, most of the feature films are Philadelphia premieres, although Honeyland did have a theatrical engagement, at the now-defunct Ritz at the Bourse, in September 2019.

Programs and local interest films

The festival will include 13 separate programs, each consisting of multiple shorts and in some cases a feature as well. One of them, on Environmental Justice, is described by Drobac Diagne as "absolutely crucial at this time in the world's evolution, it's absolutely front and center in everyone's consciousness. That program includes a documentary feature called Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, about a community in Louisiana displaced by a chemical plant.

Other programs include Indigenous Perspectives, American Adventures, Oceans First, Planet Food, African Lands, Public Lands, Plastic Problem, and Toxic Bodies.

There will also be short films of local interest, including Beyond the Philth - a documentary about the city of Philadelphia's trash crisis- and Organize for Our Lives, a documentary about the 2019 students' strike for climate justice. Another short, Petty's Island, tells the centuries-long story about an island located in the Delaware River.

In addition to the Academy of Natural Sciences, the other lead sponsor is the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, a charity based in the East Falls childhood home of Grace Kelly.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

The Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival runs through September 23-27. Unlimited Virtual Passes are available for $30, and tickets to the individual programs are $12.

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