Moving pictures that get you moving

7th March 2012 by

Olivia Furber is an Otesha alumnus from our mammoth LeJog (Land’s End to John O’Groats) cycle tour. Not only that, but we are so proud to learn that she has just won a Young Achiever’s Award – well done, Olivia! In this guest post she describes how she was inspired to use the emotional power of cinema to rouse herself and others from armchair apathy.

Have you ever seen a film that has moved you, stuck in your memory, or told you something you didn’t know before? I’m imagining the answer for most people is ‘yes’. Films, be they documentary or fiction, have the power to relay information in a compelling and emotive way and to give voice to stories that need to be told. Some films even have the power to profoundly change your behaviour and perception of the world. This was certainly my experience.

About two years ago I was feeling pretty depressed about climate change, environmental degradation and my seeming inability to do anything to stop them. I felt powerless and useless. A turning point came when I watched The Age of Stupid, a story told from the perspective of an archivist living in a devastated planet in the year 2050. He looks back 40 years and asks ‘why didn’t we act when we had the chance?’

If you haven’t seen the film then 1) watch it 2) expect to feel depressed. I came out of the cinema feeling panicked. I was filled with a sense of urgency but didn’t know how or where to direct this feeling. Once again I felt useless. Then I had a lightbulb moment. If films could provide information and urgency, then I should show them to as many people as possible. After all, who doesn’t love a good film? But I needed to do more, I needed to provide avenues for people’s energy and enthusiasm to be harnessed, post-viewing.

I let this idea simmer for a little while and decided that the solution was to organise an environmental film festival that went beyond the screen. The idea was to organise a series of carefully selected films (fiction, animation and documentary), screen them for FREE to the general public and accompany each screening with an activity  and avenue for action that complimented the content of the film.

Showing the films for free was really important as I didn’t want there to be any barriers to people attending. I was also aware that there was a certain stigma attached to environmental films, the idea that an environmental film would, by definition, be preachy and depressing. To challenge this perception I sought out films that were upbeat and humorous.

I was lucky enough to get a generous grant from the University of Edinburgh – and Cineco, Scotland’s first environmental film festival was born. I had 3 months to get the programme together and recruited an excellent team of fellow volunteers to help me. The first step, selecting the films, was great fun, as it involved watching film after film, often from the comfort of my bed. Once we had selected the films, and paid for the rights to screen them, we began the hunt for a host venue for the festival and put our thinking caps on about what activities would best complement each film.

In the end we programmed 14 events over three months. I absolutely underestimated how time consuming organising events is and taking this on in the final year of my degree proved to be a bit of a challenge, but people’s feedback and the great audience turnout made it absolutely worthwhile and kept levels of enthusiasm very high.

Each event was more than just a film screening. We had panel discussions, Q&As with directors, waste-food banquets and tea tastings, to name just a few. Most importantly, each event provided an avenue for any enthusiasm or interest aroused in the audience by the film. Local and national environmental groups were invited to each screening, all of whom told audiences about actions they could take that evening or that week to contribute to solving issues presented on screen.

We had an overall audience of 800 for all the events and myself and the Cineco team were invited to two climate change conferences to speak about the power of environmental film to address issues and effect change. It was a really inspiring experience and a model I hope others can follow.


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