Grandmother earth: The Earthdance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival screens "For the Next Seven Generations: The Grandmothers Speak" by Carole Hart this weekend. (Photo courtesy Oakland Museum of CA)

Earthdance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival

Robert Avila April 2, 2008

Who says it’s not easy being green? If you ask the folks behind the Bay Area-based Earthdance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival, engaging films with positive and eye-opening ecological themes can not only be easy but high fun. And they’ve been proving it since 2004, with an annual spate of short films covering a gamut of environmental subjects and stylistic approaches while studiously avoiding the doomy.

“We’re living at a time when we need stories that connect people, bring them together and inspire hope,” explains festival director and founder Zakary Zide. “We wanted to reach out and be more inclusive.” Doing so meant highlighting the humor, adventure and sheer wonder of the natural environment and the place of human beings in it. Rather than targeting single issues like global warming or the coming water crisis, EarthDance aims to be a bridge between art, nature and science. In that sense, says Zide, “It’s not even political.”

Neither is it (entirely) frivolous. Zide has a background in ecology and art and he’s even dabbled in filmmaking, documenting his own environmental sculptures à la Andy Goldsworthy and Rivers and Tides. The impetus behind founding an environmentally themed film festival had as much to do with what he and his colleagues at the Oakland Museum weren’t seeing in media representations of the natural world. “Too much gloom and doom,” he says. “Where was the fun? The weird? The quirky? And we didn’t want to be preached to.”

The fifth annual EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival screens a juried compilation of 20 short films in two 90-minute installments this Friday evening at the Oakland Museum, which has hosted the unusual and unabashedly quirky festival since its inception. All films have running times between 30 seconds and 30 minutes, and all of them broach some aspect of environmentalism conceived broadly enough to include a “psychedelic unicorn adventure” called Nasty Girl (Anonymous, USA 2 min), feminist adventuring in Nomads: Wandering Women of the Whitewater Tribe (Polly Green and Chris Emerick, USA 20 min), and candid close-ups on a reveling crowd of drunken bees in the straightforwardly titled Drunk Bees (USA 7 min), the last of which comes courtesy of the San Francisco-based quarterly DVD magazine of short films, Wholphin (an imprint of McSweeney’s).

Over the past five years, unlike some of the more soused members of the animal kingdom (Oh, bee hive!), EarthDance has remained clear-headed and on the move. It’s reached out to audiences internationally, traveling thus far to Mexico, Canada, Ireland, Denmark and Israel and becoming in Zide’s words “a mobile, global event,” screening in 35 cities and venues worldwide. But it continues to premiere every year here in the Bay Area at the Oakland Museum, where it’s found a receptive home from the beginning. “We got our start at the Oakland Museum, and the museum continues to be the lead sponsor,” says Zide. Meanwhile, “the quality of the films has increased tremendously, as well as the number of international entries.” This year’s program features work from India, Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands, France, the UK and Australia in addition to Canada and the US, while spotlighting some notable local talent, including Ken Glaser (Organism) and Sharon Colman (the Academy Award-nominated Badgered). Both filmmakers will be in attendance Friday night. “We’ve also been folding our collection of films into larger film festivals that want to offer their audiences a green option.” Since 2006, the festival’s program has also been compiled on a DVD, for sale now on their website, with 2008’s DVD due for release in May.

It may look deceptively pint-sized, but with dozens of film festivals annually in the Bay Area’s teeming cinema ecosystem, EarthDance’s ability to succeed on its own modest but popular terms is no small achievement. “EarthDance sets itself apart by not taking itself too seriously,” explains Zide. “And that’s why I think it appeals to a broad audience. We’re like the SF International Film Festival on Ritalin meets Spike & Mike with a green, jet-age twist.”