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UK Green Film Festival director Dan Beck breaks down 2017’s programme

From When Two Worlds Collide, as part of the selection of this year's UK Green Film Festival

Back for 2017 with another bevy of stunning titles from around the world, UK Green Film Festival (UKGFF) arrives in cinemas next month, with climate change, food and resources front and centre of its concerns.

As the only UK- wide environmental film festival, UKGFF's selections each year bring global concerns to a local audience, screening across the country and with a brilliant array of stories. This year, the programme seems to find a home with personal tales from the front lines of climate change.

Below, Dan Beck, UKGFF’s director of five years, takes us through the films they have chosen to champion for 2017, and why so many directors are choosing to focus on the stories at the heart of issues such as global warming.

Run Riot: The festival opens with How to Let Go…, how do you think the conversation of climate change in the UK has developed since UKGFF began?

Dan Beck: That’s a tough question to answer, over the past few years I have answered similar questions very positively, talking about the progress we’ve collectively made in terms of our thinking and actions around climate change. I think that here in the UK with the vote to leave the EU dominating the agenda, it is becoming more difficult to find the space to bring up climate change. The UK at this point in time feels more divided than anytime I can remember and attempting to unify people around a global cause such as climate change, in a country that is going through such fundamental changes, can often feel like an uphill struggle. Thats why it’s vitally important that films like How To Let Go Of The World… are given the opportunity to be seen, to ensure that environmental issues don’t slip down the agenda in terms of our thinking and priorities.

RR: Do you think looking at the personal impacts of climate change is the best way to inspire activism on a mass scale?

DB: As you mentioned in the first question, our film opening the festival on the 4th May at the Barbican, How To Let Go Of The World And Love All The Things Climate Can’t Change follows director Josh Fox (Gasland) as he seeks to find out what exactly it is that connects us as humans to climate change, it’s a very personal approach and a clever switch of thinking for a climate documentary.

As we begin to notice more of the actual effects of climate change over the coming years, I think Josh’s film will be seen as a vital retrospective on the psychology of a global population that in many ways is still unsure of what it means to live through the transition of climate change being referred to as ‘a warning’, to climate change as an actual planetary emergency.

Do I think that this personal approach is the best way to inspire activism? I think that’s difficult to say, we are all motivated to act for different reasons but personal stories are often the most affecting. For many people it’s easier to understand someone who has lost their home to rising sea levels, than to understand the meaning of a graph depicting sea level rises or global temperatures.

RR: What would you say are some of the major strands of this year’s programme?

DB: Some of the key issues in this years films are climate change, activism and food. We have two climate-specific films, How To Let Go Of The World… and Age of Consequences which looks at the wider societal issues associated with climate change, through the eyes of an unusual source, the US military. Both of these films take a global view of a problem from different perspectives. We also have Daughter of the Lake and When Two Worlds Collide, which tell the stories of indigenous people fighting to protect their land and environment from damaging mining and development projects. Finally, we have BUGS: The Film which explores the idea that eating bugs may be the best way to solve the worlds food crises.

RR: You’ve told us before that there are often some films you can’t get your head around on the programme (in 2015 it was Above All Else) - which aspects of the films in this year’s programme were the most shocking to you, or was there something that struck you in a similar way?

DB: I think this year it would be When Two Worlds Collide - it’s always shocking to see peaceful protests and actions met with violence but also truly inspiring to see people coming together to protect their way of life. If you’re squeamish though there are also a couple of moments in BUGS that might have you on the edge of your seat.

RR: What do you think it is about climate change that so many people find difficult to grasp?

DB: The scale of it - I think that it’s always difficult to grasp an issue on a global scale, it’s also easy to point the finger at others or pretend it isn’t happening. But it is vital that we can and do grasp the bigger picture when it comes to climate change, because if we don’t there’ll be a time when we can no longer maintain the localised symptoms of the problem.

Still from How To Let Go Of The World...

RR: And for those people, which film would you like them to see from this year’s programme?

DB: I would say if you haven’t thought about climate change or you’re unsure about how you feel about the issue then How To Let Go Of The World… would be a great place to start. It starts from the basis that climate change is happening now and takes in some of the areas of the world where climate change is having some of its most noticeable effects. It’s exactly the sort of film that we at UKGFF have always championed, it’s not a slickly packaged list of statistics and warnings, it’s a journey through the frontline of climate change, that connects with the people most at risk. It would be very hard to watch this film and brush climate change off as someone else’s problem.

RR: How have the films you consider for UKGFF changed over the years- the volume and the topics?

DB: There’s never really a checklist for us with our programming - we’re always very open-minded about the issues and types of film that go in to the programme. Although we have recurrent issues that run through almost all of our programmes such as climate change, food and resource use, each programme has always been very different from the last. I know it must sound like a bit of a cop-out but I don’t think that there’s a trend towards a certain type of change over the years… if there’s anything to pick out it could be that we’re beginning to see fewer films that carry grave messages and frightening warnings of future catastrophes. Unfortunately though, I think it’s likely that the reason for this change is that those future warnings have already expired and we’re seeing more films dealing with the current issues that we now face.

RR: What issue or cause do you wish someone would make a film about?

DB: That’s a great question - I think if I knew the answer then I would be out there making it myself! I think honestly that the best films come from a motivation to tell a particular story, the issue may be a vital part of the motive for telling it but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best approach to just pick an issue and run with it.

RR: The festival has such a diverse spread of venues taking part- it’s great to see! Who are the newcomers for this year?

DB: I think the current count is 16 venues for this year and we’re delighted to be working with HOME in Manchester, it’s a brilliant venue and we’re really pleased to be screening in Manchester for the first time. We’ll also be screening in Swansea at the Taliesin Arts Centre which is again a first for us. We often receive messages form people asking us to bring the films to their local cinemas so it’s great to be able to expand in to new areas each year.

RR: For people that come away from a UKGFF screening inspired to do something, do you have anywhere you’d recommend they go / read / visit/ donate to /volunteer for?

DB: If you’re a film lover and you’ve been inspired by one of the films from our programme then you might want to consider donating to us! The festival is a registered charity and has been running since 2011, we don’t currently receive any funding from the UK film industry, which means that we operate entirely through the kind support of our audience and sponsors. There are also great environmental charities in the UK like Friends of the Earth who are working hard in lots of different areas to make positive changes for both local and global issues and they have a wealth of great information available to help people better understand some of the issues that we cover during the festival.

UK Green Film Festival takes place throughout May across 16 venues in the UK, including the Barbican in London.

London screenings:

How To Let Go Of The World on 4th May

When Two Worlds Collide on 4th May

BUGS: The Film on 8th May

Click here for more information on UKGFF and follow UKGFF on Twitter at @UKgreenfilms.