Environmental Films Screen At Upcoming Mill Valley Film Festival

September 19th, 2011
Eco-Pirate:The Story of Paul Watson

Eco-Pirate:The Story of Paul Watson

Is it our imagination or do the local film festivals continue to add more environmental based films to their screening lists. It must be a sign of the times. Just like the cold war themed films of the 60s many films, many current and upcoming films (both documentary and non-doc) hit various themes within the global environment. And we do mean global. The upcoming Mill Valley Film Festival contains several choice films of environmental interest that come from all over the globe including Canada, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador and the US). We hope to get more info about these flicks beforehand  and cover them all.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect:

Eco-Pirate: The story of Paul Watson (Trish Dolman) Friday October 7th and Sunday October 9th.

Miss South Pacific: Beauty and the Sea a short film which precedes Sarabah (Friday October 7th.

New Environmentalists -a short film part of Our New Frontier: Sustainability screens October 8th and 15th.

New Frontier: Sustainable Ranching in the American West – another short that screens October 8th and 15th

Portrait of a Winemaker: John Williams of Frog’s Leap – this short hits close to home and people and wine aficionados will no doubt drink it up. (October 8th and 15th)

Transition Town Totnes – a final short that screens October 8th and 15th.

See you at the movies sustainable style.

Aquaponics Outside PCBC and West Coast Green

June 24th, 2011

P1010675How could anyone not notice the small box of growing vegetables sitting atop a large fish tank sitting outside the zero energy house at the entrance to the PCBC and West Coast Green conference? Sure, this unusual fish and vegetable combination drew a lot of eyeballs but did anyone stop to ask what the heck this sea-veggie contraption does? We did.

For those outside of the land Down Under, most people remain unaware of aquaponics. Australian farmers continue to use this sustainable way to grow fish and vegetables due to their continuing extreme drought conditions.

The concept behind aquaponics can be explained rather simply. The water and fish poop from the tank move upward into the stone filled bed which feeds the plants. The hydroton pebbles, imported from Germany, have bacteria that absorb the fish poop then convert the poop to nitrites then nitrates which is fertilizer. Okay, we’re not chemists but when Kevin Warnock who put this contraption together using parts from Costco and a fish supply place shows us that the plants grow six times faster than in dirt and the fish grow twice as fast as in the wild we have to think that this may be a good idea.

Even better, consider the water that can be saved. Not only do the vegetables use about 1/10th the water of vegetables grown in dirt but the systems needs no chemicals to clean the water. Kevin only adds water (for the fish and fish food) but no cleaners, chemicals or pesticides.

People can put this contraption in their patios for about $1000 or so but it works an a larger scale in Oz. Sign us up a veggie and fish farmers because with a sustainable system like this we could get used to eating salmon salad.

PCBC and West Coast Green Combination – Organic Architect Speaks

June 23rd, 2011

P1010666San Francisco might be known for food, liberalism and Green laws but also for density. Not the stupid kind but rather living in tight quarters. With those ideas, it made sense to combine PCBC and West Coast Green especially considering that real estate, especially new construction and Green building, continue to suffer greatly due to the economic downturn. After all dirty building and green building belong in the same event.

The crowds seemed a little thin on the first day at San Francisco’s Moscone Center but things will probably pick up during day two. One place where the crowd packed into the space was to see noted organic architect Eric Corey freed. The noted sustainable Howard Roark never disappoints in his presentations no matter the setting.

Freed offered his usual collection of bold, entertaining, outrageous slides to accompany his presentation. (Where does he get those photos?) A good portion of his 20 minute presentation focused on the car and how we have designed our society around the auto. Besides sprinkling in car facts such as the average American spends 84 hours stuck in traffic, and 94 percent of cars remain parked. So why do we have a love affair with our cars? Cars only destroy community which rings true in places like LA and Houston.

Even though Freed makes his living as a noted architect, his presentation weighed so heavily against the car that you might think that he changed his profession to bicycle inventor. His anti-car discussion eventually lead to several ideas to fix cities so that they change into people friendly instead of car friendly areas:

1-     Ban the lawns and replace with victory gardens.

2-     No straight streets.

3-     Require porous roads and lots to reduce water waste

4-     Make solar available as an over the counter purchase

5-     Bring back corner stores. This one we might not totally agree with unless the corner stores actually sell something besides processed crap.

6-     Encourage local real estate developers so that houses don’t look cookie cutter all over the US.

It’s good to have to someone thinking out of the box even if his requirements run on a slightly fascist model.

Detroit Wild City – Feature Documentary

May 10th, 2011

Detroit_Wild_City_0Screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2011

Looking at the opening images from the feature documentary Detroit Wild City, the Motor City look more like something made like Mad Max film or as one of the Detroit locals mentioned in the film that the Motor City resembles Dresden after the war.

Despite the negatives that the film focuses on – blight, crime, decay, French director Florent Tillon offers some alternative philosophies and ideas that may be surprising in the sustainability of the decaying city.

The French point of view from Tillon highlights how numerous citizens have started growing victory gardens in the midst of all the decay. The fact that Detroit used to be farm land before an auto city may come full circle (to a point) with abandoned lots being turned into local farms.

Detroit Wild City also makes a point to show how native falcons and other birds have returned to the city using deserted skyscrapers as artificial cliffs and nesting grounds.

Tillon uses arresting images to make his point while limiting interviews and dialogue to a sparse number of lower and working class Detroitians. Although it might have been interesting to get some point of view from local business people, Tillon obviously wished to keep the focus on the hard core locals who remain.

Detroit Wild City offers some hope but leaves many questions unanswered. People may have different takeaways from this striking travelogue but it does bring awareness to a supposedly dead city on the the mend.

The Light Thief Plugs Into Environmental and Social Justice

April 29th, 2011
Scene from The Light Thief

Scene from The Light Thief

Sometimes it takes seeing things from a different perspective to realize what the big picture is. In the case of “The Light Thief” which plays at the SFIFF later this week, this small deftly made film plugs into  social and environmental justice themes then  wraps the story around colorful characters and a stark backdrop.

Set in a remote village in Kyrgyzstan, “The Light Thief” spotlights a local electrician, who the locals refer to as Mr. Light.  His radiance shows through in the first scene where he monkeys with the wires in an old man’s house so that he doesn’t have to pay for electricity. In this case Mr. Light shows his benevolence and concern for the community as he helps them steal electricity that they can’t afford. He eventually gets caught but the villagers (as well as the audience) know that Mr. Light’s heart is in the right place.

Besides his role as a do-gooder, Mr. Light acts as an environmentalist of sorts. With his iconic energy producing windmill in his front yard, he constantly tinkers with his sustainable invention. The fact that others in his village consider him an eccentric electrician only frustrates him.

Things quickly change when a greedy developer who has his mind set to developing much of the village hires Mr. Light to not only work but expand on his windmill idea. Mr. Light soon finds himself in a dilemma – work for the greedy developer who he learns to dislike but who can make his windmill farm a reality or continue fighting the system.

This little allegory of big business and politics versus the community and the common man seems a little rough around the edges but the simple style that director  Aktan Arym Kubat (The Chimp) brings home his points. Perhaps small town villagers can use The Light Thief as a rallying point for those going up against the large energy companies of the world.  For those in the big cities, we just have to hope that The Light Thief sees the light of day in some movie theaters.

Screens at the SFIFF Sunday May 1

The Pipe – Little Community Versus Big Oil Documentary

April 26th, 2011
The Pipe

The Pipe

Screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival  - 2011

In another documentary that takes the familiar   David versus Goliath
theme, the Irish entry “The Pipe” looks at the plight of the citizens of the small Irish enclave of Rossport versus Shell E & P Ireland. Shell wishes to lay the huge Corrib Gas Pipeline through the picturesque  community but the locals fights back.

The Pipe states that Shell refused to participate in the making of this film. The fact that an energy giant refused to offer their side doesn’t come as a big surprise.  Besides the film Crude, few of the community versus energy giant (e.g. On Coal River) docupics have included participation from the Goliath.

The Pipe’s director Risteard O Domhnaill quickly sets the mood and
location by offering glorious sweeping vistas, seascapes and verdant
shots of the local region. He captures the local fisherman catching
crabs, and others walking their dogs. All things that one would expect
people in the local community to take part in.

The Pipe quickly slides into a series of conflicts that that locals initiate
against the energy giant. The film captures the protests that have a
grass roots feel with sit ins, vocal demonstrations, and town
meetings. Much of the initial conflict pits the locals versus the town police, and then later shifts to infighting as the village residents argue about the best way to attack the energy giant.

The protests include the notable 2005 arrest of “The Rossport Five”
who made international news and served as the spark for the base of
the continuing flight against Shell.  Domhnaill follows one of the
Rossport Five, fisherman Willie Corduff who remains firm in the fight
against the pipeline construction.

Although the film creates a compelling story, it suffers somewhat from
repetition and fails to fully address certain local issues. The film skims over the involvement of local and governments and only focus on the battles
between the police and the residents.  Other “oil documentaries” such
as “Crude” create more complexity by delving into the various layers
in a big oil versus local community story.

Despite some of the shortcomings the film offers high production
values and colorful locals, and enough conflict to fill the a pipeline.  The
film’s energy picks up some of the slack but not enough to raise it to
the standards of other docufilms of this genre.

“The Pipe” screens Apr 30 and May 2

Happy Earth Day – Have A Phone Book

April 21st, 2011

phone books Happy Earth Day!

It would have been completely ironic for the Valley publishing company to deliver these monolith-sized stacks of phone books on Earth Day but that didn’t happen. They did make the trek from Fresno to doorsteps and sidewalks of San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. No doubt, many San Franciscans couldn’t wait for the newest page-turner. Who can’t live without their phone book these days?

We find humor in the fact that the 584 page of wasted paper states “This directory is 100% recyclable” in several places throughout the book. Of course it is, and so too are plastic bottles. Why even make this monstrosity at all? And speaking of plastic, we even enjoy receiving these phone books wrapped in plastic.

Maybe next time, the company can dip the phone books in oil before they deliver them to all of the customers who early await the next updated version.

And just a shout out to the Millions Against Monsanto event taking place in San Francisco Civic Center this Saturday April 23rd from 11 AM to 6 PM.

Happy Earth Day!

Green Festival Rolls Into San Francisco

April 11th, 2011
Joey Shepp

Joey Shepp

The Green festival rolled into San Francisco this past weekend with less fanfare than in the past. Not that the participants, vendors and speakers didn’t have the energy of years past but this recent version saw a drop in vendors and also in the overall show days (from 3 to 2). Maybe the festival needs work on the “less is more” thinking and revert to the November only event.

The event did offer some notable and thought provoking speakers. We spent time to hear local Joey Shepp discuss social media for sustainable business. Even for people experienced with sustainable business ideas he certainly added some innovative ideas. We saw several business people typing notes madly on the Smart Pads. Some of the products and ideas worth mentioning include: the Fujitsu scansnap that quickly scans documents and business cards and the like quickly and efficiently. Of course he mentioned the world of cloud computing and how they will cut down on paper use. He mentioned that currently products will be about what the client wants not what the company wants (crowd sourcing) and that great sustainable ideas don’t have to come from angel investors or VC with organizations like Kiva, Kickstarter, and Crowdfire as outlets for people to start their own business. With so much info, he quickly rushed through his belief that Wikileaks will add truth and cause companies (or governments) to be more transparent. It adds truth, and what remains is education and creativity.

The other thing that seemed to be generating buzz is the GMO talk. Organizations may be angling toward getting mandatory labeling of GMOs on the California ballot because a high percentage of consumers want GMO labeled and because supermarkets, products and apparently are government don’t want to be transparent about what our food contains.

Upcoming Picks for SFIFF 2011

March 30th, 2011

Pipe_Quad_Full_PosterWhen the SFIFF finally released its 2011 schedule, a few films initially struck our fancy. The Irish documentary “The Pipe” takes a look at a grassroots effort to halt the construction of a oil pipeline through one a pristine area of a small Irish town. Not only does the community battle the behemoth oil company but a largely compliant state as well.

Sticking with the theme of energy, the “Light Thief ” caught our eyes as a local electrician known as Mr. Light finds himself in a dilemma when a politician embraces the idea of generating wind energy for his destitute town.

Although we enjoy seeing the green wave of films with an environmental slant, we also maintain a keen eye for good film so that means the Errol Morris film “Tabloid” about the bizarre 70s tale of girl gone wild Joyce McKinney.

We keep salivating about Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” which we hear tastes like a food version of “Sideways”. We hope that it comes served organically.

Happy viewing.

New MiEV in San Francisco Driveway

March 14th, 2011
New MiEV in driveway in SF

New MiEV in driveway in SF

It’s becoming a regular occurrence. One of us comes down early in the morning and we spy a new electric vehicle in the driveway of Plug In America and solar guru Marc Gellar. This time, we got to check out the new MiEV from Mitsubishi. This international version (slightly smaller than the US version) looks to be the perfect size for San Francisco or any city commute.

The MiEV looks somewhat larger than the Smart car but seems to be a better size in terms of size and comfort. It contains four seats, and even if four tall people can’t squeeze in, it sure can fit a few bags of groceries. Marc mentioned that it offers a surprising amount of giddyap, and also told us that it can go about 80 miles between charges which is enough to visit to the East Bay and back.

Of course, price gets everyones’ attention and the MiEV. We heard that  Mitsubishi dealer in San Rafael will have these electric puppies available in November and should come in less than $20K mark with the federal credits.

The one thing that that gets us is on the back of the car it states “40 years of EV development”. So, what have they been doing for the last 39 years? Waiting for gas that’s $5 a gallon.