The American Conservation Film Festival (ACFF), now in its eighteenth year, is presenting 48 contemporary films in an online festival format for 2021. Aside from the obvious shift away from in-person venues at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) and Shepherd University, the biggest change to this year’s format is the flexibility of watching any (or all) of the films at any time during the festival dates (March 24-28).
Shown here are some of the 2021 award winners (with summary by ACFF). For the full list, visit ConservationFilmFest.org.
A Mission For Action
Jennifer Lee, the Executive Director of ACFF, recounted the history of the organization. “It started out as a small group of volunteers at NCTC in 2003 and the lineup of the first festival was filled out by video tapes from some of the volunteers’ personal collections. Until 2010 it was an all-volunteer organization. Now we have several of us who work year round and two selection teams that review 300 potential films for each year’s festival.”
Lee explained the mission of ACFF, noting, “we serve a local and regional audience, to provide visibility and access to the issues raised by these films. Our role is to curate for this audience, and also to serve as a platform for filmmakers and an opportunity for them to network. Our mission is defined by the intent to engage, inform, and inspire. To engage, we bring filmmakers, audiences, and communities together around an issue. The films themselves are obviously how we inform, but it also includes the supplemental programs and workshops that are part of each festival. We hope that all of this inspires individuals to take action, whether it’s by volunteering, recycling, or political engagement. As we present our films we’ll provide links to organizations and help individuals understand what’s the next step.”
Encouraging The Next Generation
The filmmaker workshops have become an important component of the festival. Lee commented that most of the filmmakers showcased by the festival come from a science background. “We see a lot of our filmmakers who were working as scientists or researchers in ecology, environmental science, climate change, habitat loss, and they had a story that needed to be told. We help these individuals become storytellers and ambassadors for the environment. Our festival is about supporting this storytelling and approaching conservation and environmental themes through the lens of film. To tell those stories in film, it’s not a textbook process, you just need to do it. That’s the value of the workshops that we offer, they can hear and learn from other filmmakers who took a similar path. It’s a way to offer both instruction and encouragement. Particularly for younger filmmakers, it’s an opportunity to connect with experience.”
A View to the Future
Even before the pandemic, ACFF had planned to skip the full festival program in the fall of 2020 as part of a plan to shift the schedule to the spring, beginning in 2021. An unintended harbinger, the events created for 2020 provided the ACFF team the opportunity to explore online presentation. It also gave them insights into the level of interest for virtual access compared to the in-person-only formats of prior years. Lee noted that “we did an event online last year that typically would attract 50 attendees in person and we had 300 online. We can see that we can make connections and build communities virtually. But we also see the loss of the direct interaction and energy. You can only get to a certain level of depth, especially in a conversation, without being there in person.”
Beyond the event timing and format, Lee said ACFF has also been looking at how the organization transforms itself. “We ask ourselves how we expand our diversity, on our board, in our festival audience, in the film community. What outreach do we need to do? For the film submissions, how do we expand, in subject matter, in geography, in hearing different voices? We’ll definitely be taking stock of a lot of things after this year’s festival.”
Additional information on the web at ConservationFilmFest.org. For tickets, pre-register at 2021festival.eventive.org/welcome. Films will be available for on-demand streaming during the festival dates only (March 24-28). Register for free for each film or purchase the $48 all-access pass for yourself or a friend to help support ACFF. Sponsorship opportunities are also available. Email questions to info@ConservationFilmFest.org.By Steve Pearson