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Popcorn With Your Social Change?

As winter approaches and the dark nights lengthen, what do our thoughts turn to? Movies!

This is a great time for me to tell you about The Conscientious Projector: Films of Hope for People and the Planet. This festival, held each February on Bainbridge Island, Washington, does an end-run around the corporate media to inspire and inform the community.

Last year, for example, one of the festival films was Blue Vinyl. (If you haven't yet seen it, don't miss this funny, funky portrayal of a Long Island woman's discovery of the toxic horror in the benign-looking vinyl siding on her parents' home.) The lobby of the theater held displays of different plastics, showing which were the most toxic (yes, vinyl is the worst), alongside good alternatives. Our local Environmental Home Center showed beautiful samples of good old-fashioned linoleum, a great alternative to vinyl for flooring.

Another film, Homes and Hands, told heart-warming stories about community land trusts in New Mexico, North Carolina, and Vermont, where low-income people were able to find decent housing and become part of engaged communities. Following the film, some local folks spoke about the community land trust they are creating on Bainbridge Island. The film helped us see the larger significance of the local group's work as part of a national community land trust movement.

Another inspiring film was Turning Down the Heat about renewable energy. We saw huge windmills gracefully turning at the edges of farms and whole residential communities powered by solar panels. We learned that wind energy is now economically feasible and a significant part of the energy mix in many countries. And we learned that all the equipment for wind turbines is made outside the United States because this country lags so far behind on the technology.

After the film, our U.S. Congressman, Jay Inslee, spoke about the Apollo Project he is helping promote. It's a major program that could make the United States energy independent—and in the process provide lots of good jobs, reduce global warming, and improve our foreign policy (see YES!, Fall 2003). Against the backdrop of the film, it was easy to visualize the Apollo Project working—a feasible, smart alternative to the retrograde fossil fuel and nuclear programs the current administration is pushing.

What sets this festival apart from other film festivals is its action-oriented spirit. The organizers carefully choose films showing creative solutions and bring in local people doing work that responds to the problems portrayed. Instead of being depressed about the problems, you're inspired by what can be done. The festival has the same spirit as YES!magazine, which is why I felt you'd love to know about it.

The Conscientious Projector is produced on a tiny budget, thanks to the serious commitment of some local volunteers. A modest admission fee covers the costs of renting the films and the theater (they use the local high school). The speakers and displays can usually be enticed for free because people are eager to tell others of the work they do. The printed programs and publicity pay for themselves with ads from local businesses.

The Conscientious Projector has now been going for three years, sponsored by the Kitsap Citizen Action Network. They have a website, www.kitsapcan.org, where you can check-out the films and speakers to get a better idea of how it works.

My not-so-hidden agenda in writing this column is to inspire some of you to pick up on this great model to boost spirits and promote creative engagement in your own communities. Find tips for putting on such a festival at www.kitsapcan.org. If you'd like to talk to a real person, two of the organizers, Neva Welton and Van Calvez, told me they'd be happy to talk with you. You can reach Neva at 206/842-9582 and Van at 206/855-9271.

And while you're thinking about movies, let me mention that at PFN we've just produced a video, We the People: Conversations on Being American. In watching it, you can eavesdrop on a candid conversation among a diverse group of community leaders sharing their sometimes painful experiences of being American and their hopes for how, together, we can create “a more perfect union.” The video, which is accompanied by a study guide, is designed to provoke searching dialogue and reflection on what it means to be an American. If you want to place an order, just phone us at 206/842-0216 or visit our website.

Here's to a winter filled with good movies and stimulating discussions about building a positive future.


For those of you interested in the details of how to put on a community film festival, I highly recommend Neva Welton's how-to guide, "Start Your Own Community Film Festival." Neva draws on the experience in Bainbridge to provide tips on getting started, great sources of films, using a "jury" to select the films, organizing and publicing the event, and raising the money to finance the festival. 

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