As we prepare to welcome UK Green Film Festival to the Barbican for the first time, we catch up with Festival Director Dan Beck to learn more about the inspirations and debates behind this fascinating film programme…
For the uninitiated – can you tell us a bit about yourself and the UK Green Film Festival?
‘I’ve been Festival Director here at UKGFF for the past four years, I took over from Co-Founder John Long in the summer of 2012. Simply put, the festival’s aim is to bring the very best films dealing with environmental issues to UK cinema audiences.
I guess the most significant difference between UKGFF and other festivals is that the focus of our programme is very much on quality over quantity. We programme fewer than ten feature films each year from all across the world and then we bring those films to communities up and down the country, through a fantastic network of cinemas. It’s always an inspiration to see the wonderfully committed and talented people that run some of our country’s most loved independent cinemas come together each year to bring environmental causes to the forefront of their programming. We’re hugely excited to be working with the Barbican for the first time this year!’
I think people now have more confidence than ever when it comes to discussing the environment.
How has the festival changed over the past four years?
‘I think the main change has just been the astonishing growth of it, this year we have nearly 70 screenings planned over the course of the festival week (1–8 May). I think a lot of that’s down to there having been a real significant shift in attitude over the past few years when it comes to environmental cause, awareness and action. The days of debating the existence of issues such as climate change are thankfully, finally, a long way behind us and I think people now have more confidence than ever when it comes to discussing the environment.’
What your measure for choosing the films? Do you simply select the best work, or do you try and highlight particular issues in each year?
‘We’ve always believed that first and foremost the films that we show have to just be great movies, they need to have more than good intentions, they need to inspire people in some way. There have been times where we’ve had programmes with recurrent themes, whether it’s water, energy, climate or activism but I think that’s more down to a natural consequence of filmmakers reacting to what’s going on in the world at any given time, rather than any conscious effort on our part.
The programme this year is definitely one of the most diverse we’ve ever had, in terms of the subject matter of the films, we’ve got films that look at fracking, food waste, population, extinction, corruption, climate. There really is something there for everyone.’
[the films] need to have more than good intentions, they need to inspire people in some way…
For the four films showing at the Barbican, can you give us a one sentence pitch for each – why should we see them?
‘We’ve got a great selection of UKGFF films this year starting with Racing Extinction (Sun 1 May), the latest film from Louie Psihoyos, best known for directing the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. We’re absolutely thrilled to present his latest film, which follows an undercover operation to expose the hidden world of endangered species and the race to protect them against mass extinction.
The Great Invisible (Tue 3 May) is an altogether different kind of film, director Margaret Brown traces the lives of those effected by the Deep Water Horizon disaster that took place off the Gulf Coast of Mexico in 2010, the film offers insight through the people who worked on the rig as well as the local communities whose livelihoods have been completely destroyed.
The Shore Break (Wed 4 May) is a real gem of a film. Nonhle and Madiba are cousins from South Africa’s Wild Coast but this is a family divided. Nonhle wants to preserve the beautiful nature and way of life of her people, Madiba however has other plans and is lobbying for a titanium mine and highway to bring new wealth in to the area. As the pressure mounts, Nonhle comes to realise that this feud could end up being a matter of life and death.
The Messenger (Sun 7 May) is our final film at Barbican and it’s not to be missed. Director Su Rynard asks, could the millions of songbirds that soar above our heads signify the crash of global ecosystems, akin to the disappearance of honey bees and the melting of the glaciers?’
What are the best and worst things about running the festival for you?
The best thing is definitely when you hear how the films that we’ve shown over the years have had an impact on people’s lives, whether it’s banning bottled water, buying sustainable products or planting bee friendly gardens. The worst thing is definitely just the logistics. There are lots of good sensible reasons why most film festivals happen in one venue, town or city and when you’re operating in 15-16 different cities all in one week, it’s always a massive challenge just getting everything where it needs to be. But it’s definitely worth it to get these films out there in to local cinemas, so that whether you live in London, Sheffield, Falmouth or Belfast everyone can get involved.
And finally, what’s the environmental cause closest to you – what’s top of your list to change?
At the moment it’s air pollution, I live in a fairly central area of London so it’s the thing that most often comes to mind for me. It also one of those areas where, especially in London, we seem to be going backwards on it rather than forwards, we need to see more bikes on the roads!
UK Green Film Festival takes place from 1–7 May
About UK Green Film Festival
The UK Green Film Festival is the UK’s annual environmental film festival. Taking place each year over a single week, up and down the country, the festival screens some of the very best films from around the world, exploring some of the big environmental issues of the day. ukgreenfilmfestival.org