Here's a clue that the startup San Francisco Green Film Festival isn't another feelgood hugfest sprouted by evangelical vegans: Rachel Caplan's business card identifies her as "CEO/Founder" of the festival, which opens Thursday. If she's a hippie (how many hippies do you know who go by CEO?), she's pretty deep undercover -- and unusually ecumenical.
"We definitely have a very activist agenda and we're interested in advocacy," Caplan declares, "but I wouldn't say the festival is on the left or the right because green is for everybody and affects us all. If you look at conservation, it could be defined as being on the right."
"Conservation" and "conservative" indeed share the same root, but Caplan's point isn't so much semantic as pragmatic. The health of the planet affects everyone regardless of political vantage point, and we've reached (if not passed) the juncture where constructive responses are needed from all corners.
"I think it's interesting how green has come to be seen as something on the left," Caplan says, "and it needs to be broadened and reclaimed by everybody."
This idea of individual initiative pervades the festival lineup, from ordinary guy Jeb Berrier's inquiry into the ubiquitous plastic bag in Thursday's opening night film Bag It to uneducated Burkina Faso farmer Yacouba Sawadogo and his low-tech soil-reclamation breakthrough profiled in Sunday night's closer, the British-made The Man who Stopped the Desert. The colorful central figure of Bananas! may be a Cuban-born, L.A.-based, Ferrari-driving personal injury lawyer, but it's his clients - -a dozen Nicaraguan banana workers made sterile by a banned pesticide that Dole (nee Standard Fruit Co.) continued to use -- whose courage and suffering gives the documentary its punch.
"Some of the films are definitely unsettling and will be beyond [moviegoers'] comfort zone," says Caplan, citing Huaqing Jin's unflinching look at two Chinese e-waste recycling workers, Heavy Metal. "It's almost as if we have to draw people in with the more entertaining pieces in order to slip in a few that are very hard-hitting."
The Edinburgh, Scotland, native, who was director of the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival for two years before launching the SF Green FF, pauses before delivering the punch line. "People don't like to face the fact that they have to change their lifestyle," she says, well aware she's stating the obvious.
Of course, warning flags can be seductively beautiful, too. Scandinavian director Michael Madsen's Into Eternity coolly probes the deep thinking behind the underground nuclear waste "repository" being built in Onkalo, Finland, while Yann Arthus-Bertrand soars high above 50 countries to give us an aerial view of our Home. (Arthus-Bertrand and Huaqing Jin are among the filmmakers expected to attend.)
Caplan believes festivalgoers don't need to be bummed out to be compelled to act. She's a positive sort, in other words. Heck, she may even be a vegan. It didn't occur to me to ask.
The San Francisco Green Film Festival starts Thursday at multiple San Francisco locations.
For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.