Better with Age


Environmental Film Festival Celebrates Its Sweet 16

From March 11 to 22, the Environmental Film Festival returns to Washington, D.C., for the 16th year. It’s difficult to imagine that time has passed by so quickly, but this behemoth festival has made great strides over the years. It has long been the most inclusive film festival in the city—this year reaching out to and partnering with a staggering 46 venues. Notably, in recent years, the overall quality of the films has steadily improved. This year’s 115 films come from 30 countries, with 55 D.C., U.S., and world premieres.

More than 110 special guests, including directors, will speak about the films, which highlight some of the planet’s most pressing environmental issues—from the availability of clean, fresh water, to the accelerating pace of climate change, to the environmental impact of war.

The festival made available to The Washington Diplomat the following two films for preview:

‘All in This Tea’ Tea expert David Lee Hoffman goes deep into China in search of the best handmade teas, but soon finds himself aghast that mass production has overtaken the ancient practice of handcrafting teas.

So Hoffman attempts to sell the Chinese on the concept that the best tea comes from farmers, not factories. He even drags the suits up a mountain to personally meet the “dirty” farmers with tea-stained hands. It’s quite amusing to see a white man lecture the Chinese about their own culture.

The first film shot digitally by director Les Blank, “All in This Tea”—making its D.C. premiere—moves from a modern, urban setting to a pastoral China rarely seen by Westerners.

‘Garbage Warrior’ Scruffy, maverick architect-engineer Mike Reynolds’s oversize personality is the core of “Garbage Warrior,” which premiered at SilverDocs. It’s an entertaining look at a true visionary walking the talk.

In New Mexico, Reynolds tossed out his previous architectural training and started over, seeking to build sustainable, off-the-grid housing in and around Taos. For materials, he used garbage such as beer cans, plastic bottles and old tires to design and build his ugly “earthship biotecture.”

But his experiments conflict with state housing codes, leading Reynolds to lobby the legislature to have land designated for architectural deviations. Reynolds also takes his methods on the road for humanitarian purposes to the tsunami-wrecked Andaman Islands and to Mexico post-Hurricane Rita.

A discussion with filmmaker Oliver Hodge follows the screening.

Other Highlights Esteemed biologist E.O. Wilson will attend and discuss the D.C. premiere of “Darwin’s Natural Heir,” which covers Wilson’s life and career at the National Geographic (March 18).

At AFI Silver Theatre, director Godfrey Reggio presents his legendary classic “Qatsi Trilogy”: “Koyaanisqati,” “Powaqqatsi” and “Naqoyqatsi” (March 14-16).

“The Plow that Broke the Plains,” The River,” “Power and the Land” and “The Land” (March 15) are classic documentaries in crisply restored black and white that show how the New Deal put unemployed people to work on important environmental projects.

“The Price of Sugar” (March 16) reveals what it costs to be sweet.

“Chinatown” (March 17): Roman Polanski’s last film directed in the United States happens to be a stellar parable of the water politics of Los Angeles.

“Still Life” (March 21): Jia Zhangke’s documentary-like narrative looks at the ancient beauty of the Yangtze River and the paradoxical ugliness created by aftereffects from the Three Gorges Dam.

For more information on the Environmental Film Festival, see the International Cinema listing on the following page, or call (202) 342-2564, or visit

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.