A thrill ran through our blood as we approached 2015’s Portland EcoFilm Festival. Last year’s festival transformed the way we saw the world.

The festival’s hallmarks are the connections it fosters within the grassroots community, the quality of the international creatives who participate, and the space it creates for spicy sharing via cinematic storytelling. It’s a selective festival; curation focuses on folks who take a position of exploration and hold to it with passion and artistry, leaving us all free to think our own thoughts.

Arriving at the city’s historic Hollywood Theatre, directors, producers, and cinematographers mingled under blue skies as the crowd came in for the festival opener: How to Change the World. On the path to our seats in the theater, Portland’s 350.org filled the lobby, signing folks into local fossil fuel divestment campaigns. Meanwhile, Greenpeace volunteers offered a detailed map of oil train routes and proposed coal terminal locations, being fought by the people of Cascadia.

How to Change the World, directed by Jerry Rothwell, is a masterwork of storytelling built around footage from Greenpeace’s archives. It’s the kind of project that births cinematic activism within the planetary simultaneity of consciousness enabled by new media. During the post-film Q&A, Rothwell appeared on screen via Skype from London, while Greenpeace’s original cinematographer, Ron Precious, appeared on stage to receive the festival’s “Best Feature Film Award.” Festival director Dawn Smallman credited the film for its curation of archival footage, the bold honesty of its personal storytelling (including a perhaps surprisingly effective “Judas” character), the planetary and cinematic significance of the work, and its brilliant blend of contemporary footage with historical footage. Precious was given the 2015 “EcoHero Award” for lifetime achievement, with the impact of his Greenpeace cinematography work.

Rothwell, Smallman and Precious at the opening night presentation of How to Change the World

Jerry Rothwell (on screen), Dawn Smallman and Ron Precious at the opening night presentation of How to Change the World

Tales flowed at the afterparty held at bicycle shop-come-bar VeloCult, with Precious entertaining filmmakers and environmental activists by recalling how Greenpeace defended sperm whales from Russian Destroyers. Business cards were passed around and seeds of new cinematic alliances were nourished.

Friday night took a turn from the high-drama action of Greenpeace to the poetics of archival environmental cinema. The Epic of Everest, filmed in 1924 by Captain John Noel, was introduced by the Mazamas, a local mountaineering club. Their historian recalled the 1926 Portland showing of the film by the director—two years after the filming of this first expeditionary attempt to summit Everest, originally known as Chomolungma, or “Goddess Mother of the World.” Documentary filmmaker Scott Becker, a mountaineer with multiple Everest ascents in his biography and Sherpa friends in attendance, recounted that the most shocking part of the film was that the incredibly mystical ice worlds captured in the film have ceased to exist in his lifetime. Lakes and streams are now in their place—a testament to the rapidity of global warming. The quality of the restored film imagery and the use of timelapse, color filters and subtle harmonics in the new soundtrack made for a stunning experience for the packed house of 350 mountain- and film-lovers attending.

The final film of Friday night, LeSemeur  (The Sower), was a surreal entry into the life of seed artist Patrice Fortier, who guides viewers on encounters with characters of the gardening world. In the theater lobby after the film, the audience’s stunned admiration was palpable for the film’s sense of unrushed wonder and the trust of director Julie Perron in the wry, seedy passions of Patrice. This feeling lingered in the glow of the Hollywood as a second beautiful day of film came to its close. MM

Treothe Bullock is a blogger who resides in Portland, Oregon. Read his writing at Tree Oathe – Fresh Ancients of Cascadian and Beyond.

The Portland EcoFilm Festival ran April 9-12, 2015. For more information, visit the festival’s official website, and click here for a wrap of days three and four. Photographs by Greg Snider.