More Than a Day at the Movies: Cinema Verde Film Festival

Local nonprofit celebrates sustainability with three days of film, dialogue and fun

Romance wasn’t the only amore in the Alachua air on February 14th this year. At the Paramount Plaza Hotel and Suites, film fans and environmental enthusiasts gathered to celebrate a different kind of love: a passion for sustainability.

The sixth annual three-day Cinema Verde Festival offered audiences the chance to experience 40 different short and full-length films focused on sustainability and environmental issues. Question and answer sessions with directors and producers followed several films. With topics ranging from food chains and climate change to tar sands and female war veterans, there was no shortage of topics of interest to the local Gainesville community.

Yet this wasn’t what you might imagine as an environmentalist retreat: a gathering of academic types, intent on straightening their glasses and hugging trees. These were ordinary people who enjoy quality film, art, live music and a good time.

And for Cinema Verde’s founder, Trish Riley, that’s exactly the point.

Around seven years ago, Riley discovered something lacking in her work as an environmental journalist and author. “After 20-some years in the field, I suddenly thought, ‘Nobody is going to read these books or articles unless they’re already interested – they’re not even going to pick them up!’ That’s how I evolved to start showcasing environmental films.”

The annual event showcases more than films – it also brings together musicians, artisans and local nonprofits looking to raise awareness about Gainesville’s ecological impact and responsibilities through their work.

Now entering it’s seventh year as a non-profit, Cinema Verde strives to bring environmental issues of global concern to the center of local dialogues in a way that’s accessible, fun and, as Trish describes it, even a little “glam.”

“What I wanted was to appeal to people who wouldn’t pick up the books. To do that, I try to make environmentalism as appealing as possible; in fact, I try to make a real glam party out of the whole ordeal!”

And she doesn’t do it alone. Other than Trish, the entire operation is run by volunteers, who Trish calls the “lifeblood” of the organization.

Caitlyn Anderson is a student at the University of Florida who became involved in the nonprofit’s work this year. “I’m actually doing this as an internship for credit for business school at UF, and I’m really enjoying it!”

Thanks to Cinema Verde’s proximity to UF’s campus, Riley finds herself with a new supply of fresh and eager volunteers each year – volunteers whose experiences will change the way they go on to live their lives. “This experience is definitely going to guide me in how I choose a career,” Anderson claims.

Although Riley hopes to one day be able to pay her volunteers for their efforts, in the meantime Cinema Verde’s appeal to youth is far from accidental. “Young people are the future,” explains Mike Confino, a graduate student at UF. “Obviously this is something that’s important to all ages, but you figure the younger you get people interested, the more it really becomes a part of them. Get them to see the importance of an issue, they start to base their life on it. They start to think about how their actions affect the world around them, instead of how their actions affect just them.”

With just that end in mind, Riley strives to take environmental issues outside of their traditional location in college classrooms and partisan political debate and back where they belong – among everyday people whose lives and loved ones are directly impacted by the health of the planet.

“The negativity surrounding environmentalism is born from marketing dens,” Riley argues, “from seeds that were placed in the lexicon by companies that benefit from polluting. That’s where the name ‘ecoterrorists’ came from and the stigma against environmental issues began.

“And that’s a shame. Because we should never politicize the environment. Becoming more sustainable is beneficial to everyone on the planet – all people, all animals and all plants.”

Not every film that applies to be showcased by Cinema Verde makes it to the screen. Riley vets each film carefully before sending it out before her viewers. “Because I’ve studied the issues so long, I’m pretty well apprised of the situations,” Riley explains, “so I can quickly see the difference between someone who’s trying to sell something and someone who knows what they’re talking about. So first and foremost, I’m interested in scientific validity.”

From there, Riley looks for films that focus on problems that rarely hit the limelight. Providing fresh takes on issues of sustainability is, after all, part of what will help draw more audiences in and push conversations to their next stage.

Most importantly, Riley wants to ensure that the stories being told are presented in such a way that they’ll be accessible and applicable to a diverse group of viewers.

“People enjoy films. It’s short doses – an hour and a half to learn the story. And we make that hour and a half into a dinner theater by inviting people to bring their drinks and food in. Then, they’re in an environment where they feel comfortable raising a hand or asking a question, and we have experts and directors there who can then take the story and the conversation further.”

After six years building the foundation, Riley is ready for the next stage of growth in Cinema Verde’s life – a stage that will require help and support from our local community.

“We know what we need to do, we know how to do it, now it’s got to get funded. We’re looking for major benefactors and a good venue – we want a place to call home!”

At the start, Riley held regular saloon gatherings at a local theatre where people could relax, have fun and talk about the issues, all before and after viewing a Cinema Verde Film. After losing access to the theatre a couple years ago and continuing to grow in the meantime, her search for a more permanent location has now begun in earnest.

But one thing’s for certain – wherever Cinema Verde ends up, it will be within the Gainesville community.

“I love Gainesville,” Riley says. “I moved here on purpose for the simple reason that it’s a drop of blue in a sea of red! The natural resources here are so unique and tremendous, and we have a responsible to protect them – to be good stewards.”

So what’s the end goal of Cinema Verde?

“To raise awareness of environmental concern and bring people together to develop and implement sustainable solutions,” Riley explains. “We’d like to see many, many more people come out next year, and we’d like to host in our own home!”