- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

A film festival with no awards, celebrities or world premieres isn't likely to draw many paparazzi or patrons, for that matter.

Tell that to Flo Stone, the founder and coordinator of the Environmental Film Festival, now enjoying its 10th year in the District.

The ecologically conscious festival, now running through March 24 at various District venues, gives audiences a taste of the majesty of nature without the trimmings of traditional film festivals.

Miss Stone isn't blind to what many may perceive of her festival's content at first blush.

"They think of boring polemics, people preaching at you," Miss Stone says. "None of these films are that way."

The festival's schedule, chockablock with features, animated fare and documentaries, defies any staid expectations.

The strength of the collective films lies in the originality of each, she says, the way so many filmmakers take familiar material and inject it with new life.

Even the more tragic films rise above the somber settings, such as "ABC Africa," which unspools at 1 p.m. March 24 at Visions Cinema and Bistro Lounge in the Dupont Circle area.

"I've never seen a film like that," she says of the movie, shot with a digital camera. "[Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami] takes you on the voyage he's going on, seeing the tragedy of AIDS. Yet the film has this incredible sense of the human spirit rising above this huge impact."

The festival, which will include 54 District premieres, also draws from similarly themed events, like the United Nations Association Film Festival.

"People can see the very best from other festivals," she says. "It's almost like a gift … we're able to show the winners from other astounding festivals."

Miss Stone's inspiration for the festival struck while she was attending a festival dedicated to anthropologist Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

She discussed with some of her colleagues her disappointment that more environmentally fueled films lacked the exposure they richly deserved.

"I wanted really quality films that people normally don't see to get a wider audience," she says. "The environment encompasses everything."

A fellow panel member took her diatribe to heart, connecting Miss Stone with New York's Golden Rule Foundation, which gave her a grant to jump-start her notion.

She chose the District for the festival's home to She chose the District for the festival's home to take advantage of the city's many museums, libraries, embassies and environmental groups.

The first festival featured a modest repertoire of about 45 films. This year, 105 films will be presented over 11 days, and she expects turnout to exceed last year's 12,500.

Despite its early success, the festival still has image problems.

"It's hard when you're aiming for diversity … 'What's the theme?' everyone says. It's life itself," she says.

Among this year's intriguing entries are "Bustling Cities," a series of films by Czech artist David Vavra, to be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Embassy of the Czech Republic. Mr. Vavra will present three films from his series, which include architecture from the Czech towns of Spindleruv Mlyn, Liberec and Cesky Tesin. The films mark the cultural changes in the cities of Mr. Vavra's native land.

The festival's films often begin, or end, with frank discussions about the presented material.

"It's a very uncontrolled environment," Miss Stone says. "It's so open. The presenters just open the doors and in come the people."

Christopher Palmer, president and chief executive officer of National Wildlife Productions, says most city dwellers have lost touch with nature.

The festival's endurance, Mr. Palmer says, "shows there's an appetite, in the capital, for these types of shows."

"These issues are no longer fringe issues, of interest only to hard-core environmentalists." says Mr. Palmer, whose company produces Imax films, documentaries and other environmentally aware productions. "They've become standard in our society, routine concerns of everybody."

His company's Imax film, "Bears," looks at black, polar and grizzly bears and reflects the misunderstood beasts' sense of play.

"This is very important to bears. When bear cubs play, they're learning social attitudes," says Mr. Palmer, who will introduce the film at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the National Museum of Natural History's Johnson Imax theater.

"It reminds viewers than bears are complex creatures. They're magnificent animals," he says. "They stir your blood like nothing else when you see them. To lose them would be a catastrophe."

The festival's impact, he hopes, will be felt long after the lights come back on that the next time a festivalgoer watches the news or ponders how to cast a vote come election day, he or she will have a new respect and understanding of the issues facing the globe.

"Everybody at some points grasps that our lives depend on the health of our ecosystems," he says.

For more information about the festival, visit www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org or call 202/342-2564.

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