Latin America in Environmental Film Festival

The Environmental Film Festival begins Tuesday, March 17, with the documentary, “Bikes vs. Cars,” a Swedish film that chronicles one of the biggest daily lifestyle disputes in cities from Los Angeles to Sao Paulo—and most certainly, as well, here in Washington DC.
The film, which will have its D.C. premiere at the Carnegie Institution for Science near Dupont Circle at 7 p.m., is a good choice for the “Climate Connections” theme of this year’s festival, two weeks of features, docs and shorts from around the world, including 19 films from Latin America.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 7.41.15 AM“Bikes vs Cars” examines traffic congestion, as well as health and safety concerns in cities around the world, emphasizing the dangers of our car-oriented lifestyles. The filmmakers use statistics to create a sense of urgency: “Seven million people die every year due to air pollution,” for instance. The film also scrutinizes growing pressure to create sustainable alternatives for the world’s growing urban population. It discusses citizen-led efforts to increase cycling as an alternative to long commutes, and examines the big money pushback by the automobile and oil lobbies that don’t want us trading our cars for pedal power.

Then the film shifts gears, so to speak, visiting Copenhagen, where 4 out of 5 people are registered bike owners. It’s a city where more people commute by bike than in the entire United States—enjoying as well, the filmmakers tell us, lower stress levels and less noise pollution and producing less climate-changing fossil fuel emissions. It’s not a perfect example, the filmmakers point out, because the struggle between cars and bikes persists, but conditions are pretty good for cyclists, who have their very own lanes and large groups of bikers dominate the flow of rush hour traffic.

Copenhagen’s success story is one that bikers would like to emulate in Sao Paulo, where the movement isn’t as big but activists are working with the city’s government to add dedicated lanes for the safety of the city’s bikers. While some Sao Paulo officials, citing already high debt, say it is not the “right time” to invest in bike lanes, their urban planners stress that if it isn’t done in the next 20 years, it will never be done. The mere possibility of transforming one of South America’s most dangerous cities for bikers into a model with bright red bike lanes proves that change is possible.

In fact it is not only possible, but it is happening, if slowly, in many cities worldwide including here in Washington DC, which, according to this study, has the worst gridlocked rush hour traffic in the country, as well as miles of bike lanes and a growing cyclist culture—albeit with “bike vs cars” conflicts galore. Therefore, the film’s realities are likely to seem irritatingly familiar to many of tonight’s viewers.

“Bikes vs Cars” premieres Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Carnegie Institution, followed by a discussion and opening night reception with the filmmakers Margarete Jangård and Chris Painethe. Rating for Bikes vs Cars: 5/5

Here’s the first week’s lineup of many of the other films the annual festival’s Latin American Program:

“Baja’s Secret Miracle”  A dying ecosystem threatens the livelihood of a 4th generation family of fishermen in Cabo Pulmo on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. They are told the best solution is to create a marine park to preserve the little life left, but the father, as the head of the family, fails to understand the graveness of the situation. Shown with “Sharks of Mexico.”

“Sharks of Mexico”  Photographer and shark expert Gerardo del Villar embarks on an adventure to prove that Mexico is one of the largest—if not the largest—shark sanctuaries in the world.

“H20MX”  This documentary examines the dangerous geographic and demographic changes leading to Mexico’s escalating water crisis. From the faulty infrastructure to supply problems, H20MX explores all the ways water–and the lack of it—impacts Mexico City’s population in a country ranked among the worst in the world in terms of water quality.

“The Absent House”  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a house with only a tiny roof and most of the living space open to the elements? This film shares the ideas of architect Fernando Abruna Charneco, a visionary in green housing designer who prioritizes nature through self-sufficient housing and minimalistic designs.

“Mercury Uprising”  The devastation of the mining is discussed in this documentary starring ecologists Tom Lovejoy and Luis Fernandez, as well as Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar Vidal. The film is a follow-up to the award winning Amazon Gold. Shown with “Yasuni Man”.

“Yasuni Man”  The rainforest conservation of the Yasuni region, along with its indigenous population, is at the mercy a conflict centered around political, environmental and human rights violations with few advocates able to counteract injustice in this UNESCO site.

“Lago Enriquillo…A Prelude to Climate Change”  This film examines largest lake of the Antilles; why the water has risen so rapidly; and is there a way to control the levels that are devastating the local lives of people and other species.  Scientists  say it’s a early example of climate change to come around the globe.

“Mañana”  A short work of fiction shown with “Lago Enriquillo…. A Prelude to Climate Change,” it follows the journey of a man from a world of chaos and destruction back to the paradise humans lost by mistreating our planet. Winner of the Globo Verde Dominicano Award.

“Once Upon a Forest” Filmed atop the canopies of untouched forests of the Peruvian Amazon and in the African country of Gabon, this film is magical adventure by Luc Jacquet with beautiful aerial shots and epic music in “a feast for the senses and imagination.”

“The Bat Man of Mexico”  As the name indicates, this film profiles a man who has saved bats ever since his childhood. Now, he ventures to preserve them as best he can by traveling with them along their migration routes (and to also ensure that they manage to pollinate the cactuses used to make his favorite liquor, tequila).

Festival runs from Mar. 17 to 29. For the full festival schedule click here.

—Lucia Jimenez

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