This week, just in time for Earth Day, EarthX has returned to facilitate an array of powerful events about environmental devastation and the global fight against it.
The Dallas-based festival, which is America's largest annual environmental expo, was founded in 2011 by environmentalist and businessman Trammell S. Crow, who initially branded the festival "Earth Day Dallas." Since then, the event has grown exponentially, drawing thousands of attendees across the globe and utilizing everything from artificial intelligence and private investors' summits to competitions for young artists.
It's an example of just how effective collaboration between people of all walks of life can be, and a blueprint for the kind of interconnected movement we'll need to combat the climate crisis.
Percy Vs Goliath Pits a Local Farmer Against a Giant Corporation
One of EarthX's main events is the EarthXFilm festival, which this year is screening 14 films and a total of 33 features about climate change, environmental racism, sustainable farming, youth climate activism, and other efforts. The films will be screened over a 10-day period beginning on April 16, both in-person in outdoor venues and on the festival's streaming platform, EarthXTV.
2021 EarthxFilm Festival www.youtube.com
Among this year's extraordinary selection of films is the world premiere of Clark Johnson's Percy Vs Goliath, a film that tells the true story of a farmer named Percy Schmeiser, who was sued by the alchemical corporation Monsanto after it accused him of using its patented genetically modified beans.
Schmeiser — whose farm had been growing its own crops for generations — engaged in a court case that eventually reached the Supreme Court and became a symbolic fight for farmers' rights against big business. Starring Christopher Walken as Percy, alongside Christina Ricci and Zach Braff, the film is one of the most highly anticipated titles among a slate of powerful offerings.
"Percy was minding his own business when Monsanto accused him of copyright infringement," director Clark Johnson told Popdust. Though the film tells the story of one farm and its struggle against a massive corporation, "The struggle is universal," Johnson added. "The farmers we met in India revered Percy and Loiuse Schmeiser for being the voice of farmers around the world." Schmeiser eventually became an international spokesperson for farmers' rights and an outspoken opponent of transgenic crops and GMOs.
PERCY VS GOLIATH Official Trailer (2021) www.youtube.com
The film is an outpouring of support for farmer's rights and for the utility of the natural world, as opposed to unnatural entities like big businesses, GMOs, and fossil fuels. "Wind and solar are becoming cheaper than oil and coal," said Cooper. "And 'family' farms can be more profitable than factory farms as techniques evolve." That's a sentiment that Joe Biden has been expressing lately in his speeches and in legislative efforts advocating for green infrastructure. Certainly, a shift back to local farmers and renewable resources is a necessity for the future of our planet.
Yet, too often, a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is framed in the popular imagination as something that would take away jobs from hard-working people, when the opposite is true — massive corporations are far more likely to offshore jobs and harm people's livelihoods, whereas a transition to renewable energy would give reason to create millions of jobs.
YOUTH v GOV Tells the Story of How Youth Activists Successfully Sued the Federal Government
Another one of the festival's incredible featured films is director Christi Cooper's YOUTH v GOV, which tells the story of the young activists who sued the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and happiness by failing to take action against the climate crisis.
"My journey with this film really started in 2011, when I partnered with WITNESS on a short documentary series called 'Stories of TRUST: Calling for Climate Change,'" Cooper told Popdust. "These short films focused on young people from across the country who were suing their state governments over climate change. These were the first atmospheric trust litigation cases that Julia Olson, chief counsel and ED at Our Children's Trust, filed on Mother's Day in 2011."
SIFF 2021 Trailer: Youth v Gov www.youtube.com
From there, legal actions broke out in states across the country and eventually reached the federal government, and Cooper continued to make short films about them. "Three of those cases and films featured young plaintiffs who are also in the Juliana v. United States lawsuit — namely Kelsey Juliana from Oregon, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez from Colorado, and Jamie Lynn Butler from the Navajo Nation in Arizona," she said. "Creating these short films was really the first time I had worked with young people and film, and it was also my first deep dive into climate litigation and a lot of the aspects of law that you learn about in YOUTH v GOV."
In 2016, Judge Thomas Coffin of the District Court in Eugene, OR denied two rulings to dismiss the case filed by a group of young activists. Juliana vs. United States was a landmark event because "the courts...very clearly ruled that not only have these youth plaintiffs been harmed and are experiencing climate impacts, but they also ruled that the government has caused this harm," said Cooper.
After witnessing the case's triumphant conclusion, Cooper was inspired to direct and produce the full-length documentary. She spent five years working on it, spending a year and a half researching what the government knew about climate change and what actions they had taken in response. (To no one's surprise, it turned out that the government knew a lot and barely acted at all).
Now that film is here, and it's a testament to the power of youth activism and the importance of legal action and legislation in the fight against the climate crisis. "I absolutely believe that the battle against climate change can be won in court," said Cooper.
"Working on this film and having followed the climate litigation world for the past ten years has really opened my eyes to the importance of the judicial system — as our third branch of government — in addressing the climate crisis," she said.
"Not only is one of the primary roles of the courts to state the law and to uphold the constitution, but the courts are also supposed to protect citizens when the government is taking actions that are actively harming its citizens. It's supposed to be the checks and balances mechanism to protect individual rights against governmental oppression."
The Power of EarthXFilm and Great Climate Storytelling
Both Percy Vs Goliath and YOUTH v GOV tell stories about small groups of people rising up against giant powers that are actively leading the planet towards destruction by failing to take action on climate change. As testaments to the power of ordinary people's voices, no matter how small, they also exemplify the power of climate storytelling and the need for stories during this critical time.
This was always the intention of the film festival's creator. "In my opinion, great stories are about conflict and the sometimes small and sometimes heroic actions that must take place to create solutions," said Michael Cain, the co-founder of EarthXFilm.
"The greatest issues our climate faces is really a lack of education and apathy. Our goal is to help combat these two core elements and bring more into the fold in helping to create positive change through storytellers," he added.
Can Storytelling Change the World? With EarthxFilm President & Co-founder Michael Cain www.youtube.com
Cain, who had long been organizing film series with a philanthropic bent, joined EarthX founder Trammell Crow at the start of the festival and eventually proposed the expo's film division. "I knew someday there would be a way for film and media to be a part of the equation," said Cain.
"After Trammell's involvement with Louie Psihoyo's film Racing Extinction, he saw the true potential to help drive environmental awareness and change through visual storytellers. I pitched the idea of joining film, virtual reality and youth programs to the largest environmental experience in the world and we agreed to launch it together," he explained.
In true EarthX fashion, the film festival has continued to morph over the years, utilizing different mediums and technologies to aid in the fight for climate justice. In addition to film, virtual and augmented reality will also play a major role in the festival.
"From the beginning we understood how important virtual, augmented and mixed reality could be for opening people's hearts and minds to the plight and beauty of the planet," said Cain.
For example, EarthXR, a branch of EarthXFilm, has partnered with Wild Immersion to bring viewers a variety of immersive virtual reality experiences, which they can view from home. Featuring 360-degree videos of some of our planet's most beautiful places, the partnership is just getting started.
In the summer of 2021, EarthXR — which has been endorsed by legendary primatologist Jane Goodall — will open a physical space showcasing the new technology in Victory Park. "EarthXR highlights the adventurers and change-makers healing the planet and solving the greatest environmental challenges through AI, immersive art, sonic journeys, augmented, mixed and virtual reality," said Cain.
EarthX has also embraced the potential of live-streaming. The festival, which went virtual last year, will be partly virtual and partly in-person this year. Its digital offerings include a livestream hosted by youth organizers from March for Science and YOUNGO, which will broadcast to over 1 million viewers across the globe. The festival's broadcasting program, EarthxTV, will also host Planet911 Youth Reports, which highlights young environmental activists, artists, filmmakers, and more.
"We've been able to create community and connection which have motivated impact and that is addictive," said Cain. "That community is empowering storytellers of all ages and mediums to pursue the stories that must be told at this time. We'd like to build on this while connecting all the dots as quickly as possible while supporting established and new voices through education, connections and funding."
True to Cain's promises, EarthXFilm will be awarding a total of $25,000 to several of its winning films. It will also be granting $1,500 to the winners of the "No Time to Waste" Eco-Art Competition and $7,500 to young filmmakers who participated in the Planet911 Youth Film Challenge.
By putting money in the hands of young artists and funding the activists who are getting things done, EarthX is embracing the inherent potential of collaborative efforts between business, arts, and social causes.
EarthX Unites Organizers, Students, Businesspeople, Artists, and Viewers Around the World
In addition to all the film and media, the festival will also feature a number of educational talks, presentations, and live events. A panel focused on the environment and health will include a discussion with representatives of the WHO and the CDC, who will speak about how restoring natural lands can help fight pandemics. An additional series of panels focused on conservation will also take place, touching on wolf and lion populations, ocean health, the new administration's environmental efforts, and more.
Other events include an invitation-only E-Capital Summit, where private investors, financiers, companies, policymakers, researchers, and incubators will come together to discuss partnerships that will lead to environmental solutions.
Where the Future of Climate Action Is Born
The climate and environmental crisis is a massive, complex entity that has different consequences on many disparate aspects of our existence. Its solutions will also be complex, requiring help from everyone: artists, builders, students, innovators, programmers, gardeners, and, yes, corporations and the federal government. Not unlike an ecosystem in and of itself, EarthX is an example of just how well things can work when disparate groups get together with a common goal: to survive and thrive on this planet.
Earth Day 2021 www.youtube.com
According to EarthX Board Chair Lynn McBee, "Earthx2021 will bring together and celebrate the individuals, organizations and initiatives that are pushing environmentalism forward today, from conservationists to businesspeople, filmmakers to policymakers, decades-long experts to young activists shattering the status quo." This kind of collaborative, multimedia momentum is exactly what we need to combat the preeminent existential crisis of our time.