When Eugenia Victoria Ellis, AIA, PhD, was in Morocco last November for the United Nations’ global climate conference, she saw a presentation that explained why the phenomenon of polar ice caps melting is so damaging to the environment. The presenter mentioned an upcoming film on the topic, “Between Earth and Sky,” and it clicked for Ellis that in a time of turmoil for environmental advocates, film is a unique educational format to spread information about climate change.
Just a few months later, Ellis and an interdisciplinary group of Drexel colleagues are sponsoring a block of locally focused films on April 22 at 1:30 p.m. as part of the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival. The trio of short films set to be screened at the Prince Theater will be followed by a discussion with their directors, led by Alex Geisinger, JD, an environmental law professor in Drexel’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law.
The festival comes as President Donald Trump is rolling back policies enacted to protect the environment and reportedly plans to cut 31 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, seeding deep concern among environmental advocates.
“Since we don’t have a government right now that’s supporting efforts to curb global warming, it needs to be almost a personal choice. But in order to make that personal choice, you have to be educated,” said Ellis, an associate professor with dual appointments in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and the College of Engineering. “If you don’t know how man-made things affect the built environment, and how the built environment affects the natural environment, then it doesn’t make any sense.”
Ellis and her colleagues hope the three films Drexel is sponsoring — “Nine Fires,” about forest fires in the New Jersey Pinelands; “Birds of May,” about a threatened species that visits the Delaware Bay’s beaches each year; and “King in the Mountain,” about the history of coal mining in Northeast Pennsylvania — will be a step in that direction. The A. J. Drexel Institute for Energy and the Environment, Office of International Programs, Academy of Natural Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science are joining the law school in sponsoring the films.
Geisinger said his goal in moderating the post-screening panel is to tease out how the environmental issues in each of the films resonate with the average person and society in general.
“I’m a big believer in the fact that film and other forms of expression can communicate important issues in ways that simple, rational dialogue cannot,” said Geisinger.
It’s a different approach to environmentalism than Geisinger is used to from his legal career — which is why he’s energized by the film festival and Drexel’s involvement.
“Bringing a lawsuit and dealing with legal issues regarding environmental protection is important, but I think what the film festival does is bring these ideas that only a specialized group of people deal with on a regular basis more to the public,” said Geisinger.
Ellis said she would like to see film and video design students at Drexel treat the festival as a springboard to look more closely at the environment and use their work to teach others — and perhaps even have their own films shown in future years. In the meantime, it will serve as an important part of the educational process.
“At least for the next four years, there is not going to be a whole lot of support for efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change,” said Ellis. “Those efforts are going to have to be at the state and local level, and climate change is going to have to become more of a grassroots movement.”