Gregg Mitman thought Tales from Planet Earth would be a one-shot deal. The UW-Madison history of science professor and interim director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies was a principal organizer of the 2007 environmental film festival. "Opening night, there was a line two blocks long waiting to get into the Orpheum," he remembers. He had anticipated 500 people might show up the first night. Instead, more than twice that number turned out. By the end of the festival, total attendance was estimated at 3,500.
Scheduled for Nov. 6-8, this year's edition represents a significant leap in ambition. Its schedule boasts almost twice as many films as 2007. The cornerstone theme: justice. Tales 2 also engages in close partnerships with community organizations like Porchlight and Centro Hispano. The goal is to broaden the definition of "environmental" to include social aspects of the word.
"I would say you can't tease those two apart," Mitman observes. "The environment is not just about wildlife and public lands but the places where people live, work and play."
The festival aspires to galvanize its audience. Witnessing the response to the 2007 festival, Mitman says, "We really wanted to figure out a way to take that energy and enthusiasm and inspiration that people got from watching these films and put it into action."
In addition to 45 films, the weekend includes lectures, panel discussions and appearances by more than a dozen filmmakers. Participating venues include the Wisconsin Union Theater, the UW Cinematheque and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Friday's opening features Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, co-host of Sundance Channel's The Green and public radio's Promised Land, and recipient of a MacArthur "genius grant." Her talk, "Green the Ghetto and How Much It Won't Cost Us," starts at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater. Trouble the Water, last year's Oscar-nominated documentary about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, follows. Its filmmakers are among those scheduled to attend this weekend.
Other films include a science-fiction feature about immigration and labor (Alex Rivera's Sleep Dealer, introduced by the filmmaker), 20th-century classics (Harvest of Shame, Man of Aran, The Grapes of Wrath) and familiar family fare (Born Free, Princess Mononoke). Among screenings for which Mitman expects the longest lines: Near Oracle, a feature-length work-in-progress about Biosphere 2; and What's on Your Plate, which follows two New York City preteens as they navigate contemporary foodways to the source of healthy dietary habits. The filmmakers of both movies are scheduled to attend.
Two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke delivers the festival keynote on "The Economy for the Next Seven Generations" at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8, in the Wisconsin Union Theater. Film screenings and other events continue into Sunday evening.