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CEF Scholars Tell Stories to Spur Change

By Adell Crowe

SOC CEF Aditi Desai and Kai Fang Entangled film

CEF scholars Aditi Desai and Kai Fang (above) work on their film Entangled, a story about different perspectives on an age-old tradition known as Uttarayan, the annual kite flying festival in India.

The five newly-named Scholars at AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking have film projects that tell very different stories all with the same aim: to bring to about change.

“My film focuses on new solutions to an unsustainable situation and will be paired with a strategic outreach campaign to inspire and empower viewers to take action,” explained Slyvia Johnson, a graduate student making her thesis film about wild horses and the West. As with the other winners, Johnson will receive $1,000 which she says will help fund her film.

“These students were chosen in recognition of their determination to make films that matter, that make a difference, and that make the world a greener, more livable place,” said Center Director Chris Palmer. “All have demonstrated tenacity, creativity, passion, diligence, and integrity.” Palmer says each of the 2010/2011 Scholars, all second semester graduate students, have discovered fascinating stories to tell on film. Here’s how each describes his or her project:

Aditi Desai and Kai Fang: “Our film Entangled is a story about different perspectives on an age-old tradition known as Uttarayan, the annual kite flying festival in India,” explains Desai. “On Jan. 14, each year, the skies above Ahmedabad, Gujarat are a canopy of color as over 4 million kites take to the air to celebrate the end of winter. Old and young alike flood the streets and rooftops vying for air space using razor sharp, glass-coated strings to strike competitor’s kites out of the sky. However, there is a darker, deadlier side. Each year there are multiple human injuries and deaths caused by the string. The toll on animals is even greater with thousands of birds, including the endangered White-Rumped Indian Vulture, are killed by the string. “I thank the CEF and Chris Palmer for fostering a program that will help aspiring environmental filmmakers make documentaries that help create awareness about pressing environmental concerns and facilitate much-needed policy and social changes,” Desai said. “This grant is a big deal because Aditi and I are already over budget,” said Fang. “In many ways it allowed us to continue producing this project at a higher level and to maintain the quality we are striving for.”

Irene Magafan: “My film is about one of our closest living relatives, the Bonobo Ape. Bonobos are one of the most peaceful animals on earth who live in a matriarchal system in which their lives are centered on cooperation and sex,” Magafan said. “The bonobo model allows us to imagine what it would be like if men and women shared equal power in society. Bonobos were the last of the five great apes to be discovered but could be the first to be extinct because of deforestation of the Congo forest and threats from the bushmeat trade. 

“The crisis of the bonobos inspired me to invest my own funds to create this documentary, which are minimal,” she said. “Being honored by CEF reinforces why I chose a career in natural history filmmaking and will help me reach my goal to give voice to this beautiful and gentle animal.”

Slyvia Johnson:  “Roaming Wild is a modern-day Western about wild horses, freedom and sustainability in the West,” Johnson said. “Every year the Bureau of Land Management rounds up thousands of wild horses in 10 Western states and transfers them to holding pens. Currently, over 30,000 horses sit in pens at a cost to tax-payers of $40 million a year. For the first time, there are more horses in holding pens than in the wild. My film focuses on new solutions. It is a visually stunning film that combines images of these powerful, strikingly beautiful animals and spectacular Western landscapes with quirky, compelling characters and thought-provoking questions.”

Jeremy Polk: “My film will document the work of scientists at a remote Antarctic field camp who are studying climate change,” said Polk. “The researchers of the WAIS Divide are collecting cores from a sheet of layered ice over two miles thick. Like the rings of a tree, those layers of ice can be dated and each contains a record of the Earth’s climate during the year it was formed. Those records can be extracted through chemical analysis and allow scientists not only to understand our climate’s past, but also to make predictions about our climate’s future. “This award from the CEF will enable me to purchase video equipment that will increase the production value of my film,” Polk said. “It was through the Center for Environmental Filmmaking that I originally found my (current) job at the National Science Foundation and Chris Palmer has been an incredibly supportive mentor and friend.”