Conservation through conversation

eTown’s new Green Screens documentary series is a call to environmental action

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Caroline Johnson

Environmental documentary films have the power to raise awareness about some of the most pressing issues facing our planet. But, awareness isn’t the same as action, and often even the most powerful environmental documentaries can leave viewers wondering: What can I do? 

That’s why eTown has started its new Green Screens series. The ongoing documentary screening and community engagement program aims to inspire and help guide local and individual conservation action through film and conversation.  

“The truth is that we have to use every available technology and media to get the word out about climate change,” says Nick Forster, co-founder of eTown. “We started eTown to do that through music and conversation, and now we need to do more, and we need to do it faster.”

Green Screens is how eTown plans to do that: by screening environmental documentaries and following them up with discussions about how to act. 

“You never know what’s going to resonate, what’s going to reach someone, how a story might be impactful or even life-changing. So you keep trying,” Forster says. “The combination of the film and discussion will almost always be more successful than either on its own.” 

This is the first time eTown has done something dedicated specifically to environmental documentaries, says Caroline Johnson, eTown’s director of marketing and communications.

“Our overall goal is really to encourage people to come and have a conversation, engage, raise awareness and really drive action,” she says. 

Each of the Green Screen films will be followed by a panel discussion featuring experts, artists, filmmakers and scientists; people who can answer questions about the topic of each documentary and offer suggestions on how to make a difference at an individual and community level. 

In that brief moment after the credits roll, when the viewer is left wanting to help somehow — anyhow — they can find out how through the post-screening discussions.

“My dream scenario for watching documentaries is to have discussion afterwards,” says Erin Espelie, a filmmaker, writer, editor and assistant professor at CU’s department of cinema studies. “That dialogue is incredibly important for how people can feel engaged and feel like they’re actually being truly informed … any time you see a film, it becomes so much more meaningful to have discussion around it. It can enrich it.”

With the exception of this December, Green Screens will take place once a month. The first screening in the series was Oct. 29, and featured The Human Element, a documentary following filmmaker and photographer James Balog as he highlights the climate crisis around the world, exploring the effects of our race on the planet. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, eTown will host its second installment of the Green Screens series: Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. From executive producer Anthony Bourdain, Wasted! explores the dark side of our food system, exposing the negligent amount of food waste that our society produces. 

The panel afterwards will feature Lindsey Loberg, the program director of Boulder Food Rescue, and Arlan Preblud, the founder and executive director of We Don’t Waste, a food recovery organization based in Denver. 

“Any time you have a documentary like Wasted! it really does a lot to convey a message to the public,” Preblud says. “It serves a very useful purpose. Because, sometimes, it can be hard to get people to take action.”

For the nearly-Thanksgiving screening, eTown is also co-organizing a food drive in partnership with Community Food Share to spread some holiday love. They are looking for donated nut butters, canned tuna and chicken, canned fruits and vegetables, cereal and oatmeal, pasta and canned sauce, baby food and formula, soup, stew, and beans (canned or dry). And please avoid glass containers, Johnson adds. 

eTown’s Green Screens is providing the community of Boulder with an engine for environmental action. The hope is not only going to inspire people to do something about climate change, but introduce them with the resources to action. 

That’s the goal at least, says Johnson. 

“We’re really trying to create this call to action within the community,” she says. “And to connect people with ways to make a difference.”