This is how we save the world: one movie at a time

Interview with Rachel Caplan, founder and director of  San Francisco Green Film Festival.

This year Green Film Festival took place in San Francisco for 6th time. Despite rather young age, it is a big event for the city, with full venues, guests, workshops and competitions. Apart from strong film selection in the cinemas, Festival makes screenings in school and universities and dedicate a special attention to young filmmakers with programmes and seminars. 2016 was the most successful for the Festival yet, with 68 films and 11 world premiers.

We asked Rachel Caplan, founder of the festival, about her work, her dreams and her challenges. The result is an amusing and engaging interview about how one film can change lives.

We continue exploring festivals of the network with our monthly interviews. Welcome to San Francisco Green Film Festival!

How did it all start? How Green Film Festival was born?

I remember the exact moment the Festival was born. It was ten years ago when I sat down to watch Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I was in the film industry and although environmental issues were important to me, tackling climate change wasn’t part of my daily working life.

The next two hours changed the direction of my career and, in many ways, my life. That graph – with its upward trajectory of irreversible damage to our earth – is a picture I can’t forget. It wasn’t just the film’s message, but the way it sold that message that inspired me. It was the first time I can remember film being used in a way that was building a movement and inspiring people to take action on climate.

I knew we needed to build on this idea and believed that a film festival could be a catalyst between films and environmental activism. And so, four years after Gore’s film appeared, I launched the very first Green Film Fest.

2016 Opening Night at Castro Theatre (c)SFGFF

Do you remember your very first festival? 

It was a rollercoaster ride! But I remember in the very first moments of the Festival, at the Opening Night Premiere of Suzan Beraza’s film Bag it, the response was clear –  this was about more than just showing movies. I was excited by how it got people into a room together, to share the stories that were on screen and to talk about the most urgent environmental issues.

What is the most difficult in your work now?

We’re growing year-on-year, which is wonderful, but it also feels like the demand from our community for the Festival and its programs is greater than our ability to keep up. Like most Arts organizations, funding is competitive and the reality of our resources is very small. It takes effort to stay focused and keep motivated – and to remember to breathe!

2016 World Premiere 'Not Without Us' (c)SFGFF

What do you like the most about your work? 

For me, it’s about the power of that “a-ha!” moment, when the credits roll, the lights come up, and you feel moved and motivated for what comes next. I love the stories people tell me about the ways that films have moved them to make a change: the mom who realized her toddler should be spending more time outside in nature; the man who challenged a huge mobile phone company about their e-waste; the office intern who went vegetarian. The films we show spark questions – voting positions, lifestyle choices, where to spend our money.

Do you have some funny story about Festival preparation that you can share?

We have several British people in the office (myself included) and it’s true what they say – we do drink a lot of tea. We joke that the most important member of our team is the kettle. Knowing that tea-time is always just around the corner gets us through the months of Festival planning!

2016 Best Feature Award 'Catching the Sun' (c)SFGFF

What can you advice to other film festival organizers? Some word of wisdom.

We are all in this together. I love hearing from other festival organizers and sharing stories and ideas (as well as crying on a sympathetic shoulder).

Why did you choose films as a tool to give environmental message? Why do you think is a good media? 

Filmmakers know that empathy is one of our most powerful tools for change. Through film, we get to spend an hour or more with a character and to really get to know them, their struggles and successes. Rather than being the observer, we are there in the story, we are part of it.

2016 50th Anniversary of Born Free (c)SFGFF

What are other ways that work the best in your experience? 

It’s more than movies. Getting people together, giving them the chance to talk to expert speakers, and giving space for that “lightbulb moment” is what makes a festival more than just a collection of nice films and an evening out. It’s about making deeper connections.

Do you believe that you are partially “saving the world” with your work? 

Of course! When you leave the cinema you’re not quite the same person you were when you went in. This is how we save the world: one movie at a time. Every city, town, village should have a Green Film Festival.

What are your ideas about the future? How do you think is gonna look like? 

San Francisco is a city at the forefront of independent film, innovative technology, and the global green movement. There is an alchemy of ideas here that makes the future look very exciting. At the same time, like most cities around the world, we are facing huge challenges with social equity and environmental justice. The future can only be green if everyone is included in the conversation.

Green Film Fest Audience (c)SFGFF

The Call for Entries for the 2017 Green Film Fest opens on September 19 at

by Anastasia Laukkanen