DC Environmental Film Festival’s all-virtual programming features local filmmakers and expresses hope

By Kelly McDonnell

This article was first published March 19, 2021 in The DC Line here

The Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital kicked off its all-virtual programming on Thursday, featuring over 100 films from around the world.

Last year, the festival was canceled just as it was slated to begin because of the worsening coronavirus pandemic and ensuing public health restrictions. Organizers then scrambled and put many of its films online. This year, however, DCEFF programmed a completely virtual festival that still connects with audiences and spreads its message of environmental awareness through film.

Brad Forder, the festival’s director of programming, said the event will promote hope, positivity and movement forward under President Joe Biden’s new administration. 

“We find hope through individuals and their hard work, and a lot of our filmmakers show that,” Forder said. “We have hope from seeing these environmental heroes.”

One featured filmmaker is DC native Annie Kaempfer, who grew up in various Northwest neighborhoods. Her film, The Falconer, follows the story of Rodney Stotts, an African American Washingtonian whose life revolves around birding and falconry. Stotts is one of very few Black falconers in the nation, and he has used his expert knowledge to teach DC youth about nature, environmentalism and conservation. Kaempfer said Stotts brings birds with him when he teaches, and that physical connection has an amazing impact. 

This is Kaempfer’s first feature-length film, and its initial DCEFF screening today at noon will be its East Coast premiere. The film will be available for streaming throughout the rest of the 11-day festival.

“Rodney’s story is universal, but there’s something about the film being homegrown and shown [locally]. … I’m so excited to bring a portrait of a DC native to the public to remind them we’re real people, it’s not just Capitol Hill,” Kaempfer said. “One person has a lot of power to make a difference. … I hope Rodney and this film can be an inspiration to people, that doing one little thing can make a big difference.”

Kaempfer met Stotts in 2013 and began making this film in 2014. She delayed premiering her film last year because she worried how a virtual premiere would impact sales and distribution. She decided to premiere her film in October when she realized that virtual screenings were not negatively impacting film sales.

After winning multiple prizes, like the first-place Storytellers Award at Destiny City Film Festival in Washington state, The Falconer was picked up by PBS to be part of its programming this summer.

Forder said that DCEFF — now in its 29th year — has always looked for local creatives to include in the festival, and organizers have always partnered with local groups to premiere films throughout the District. The screening of The Falconer is co-presented by Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC), located in Ward 8.

Accessible films and diverse content and audiences have been a consistent part of the festival’s mission, Forder said.

“We want to replicate that in-person, theater experience as much as possible,” Forder said of this year’s online offerings.

With an all-virtual festival, Forder noted that DCEFF’s programming can now include more international filmmakers and special guests who no longer need to travel to participate. DCEFF has scheduled multiple live events like filmmaker Q&As and post-screening panels that will allow audiences to participate through Zoom or Facebook Live.

“DCEFF has always been better than, I think, every other festival in terms of inclusivity and accessibility,” Kaempfer said. “Virtual screenings have increased that access even more.”

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