Making a film – albeit even a short one – has been one of the most exciting and amazing creative endeavors of my life. But like many creative pursuits, it’s when people see the final product that it really comes to life.
That doesn’t mean just slapping it up on social media or a video platform for viewers to watch to get likes and tags. For me, the magic is when there’s a live audience. One thing this pandemic has taught so many of us is that being together, in person, is a very valuable experience.
So, it is with great fortune that my short, animated film, “Cool For You” which educates young children about climate change, has begun a film festival run, most recently screening at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford, England at the Conservation Optimism Film Festival. One of the things I enjoyed most about the festival in Oxford, is the theme of their festival is about optimism in conservation. That led to a very positive, warm, fun, and welcoming community that made for a magical night at the Museum of Natural History.
My film festival run had somewhat of a rocky start, with its “world premiere” in Seattle when the Omicron COVID variant was at its height, with the Superbowl coinciding exactly at the time of my screening. I like to joke that my world premiere was like the tree that falls in the forest, if no one was there to see it, it didn’t really happen, right?
It has been quite challenging getting people to leave their homes and brave crowded theaters, to view my film. So, I was beyond thrilled when over 200 people attended the Conservation Optimism Film Festival, one of the largest audiences yet for my film screening.
In every city I went to for a film festival, I did my best to talk up my film, inviting any long-forgotten friend or relative within a 50-mile radius. I went so far as to develop fun “swag”, marketing my film by creating seed packets, with all my info stapled to the packet.
Since my short film is about climate change—with a scene in the film showing a kid gardening—why not encourage kids to plant seeds? It was such a big hit that the flower seeds would get taken by kids and adults alike, so much so that one festival goer even made an Instagram post about it:
I found myself walking around Oxford, dropping seed packets just about anywhere I could. It began with Lula’s Restaurant – a great Ethiopian restaurant in Oxford, near my hotel—but it didn’t end there. I would tell anyone, from a summer student to a wayward tourist, about my big UK-premiere at the Conservation Optimism Film Festival.
That’s how I found myself talking to a young man I had never met at the top of the tiny platform of the University Church’s Tower. The tower is the oldest part of the church still visible today, dating from 1280, and requires 127 steps to ascend.
I took a fun selfie of me at the top overlooking Oxford, holding the book my short film is based on. When this young man looked puzzled by what I was doing, I pulled out my seed packet, and told him about the film. We took several minutes to talk, so I learned his name is Markus, he’s from Germany and studying for the summer in Oxford, but just got a job with McKinsey that he will be starting in the fall.
This is part of the magic of film festivals. You meet people and you make connections. People connect to your film and tell more people about it, and the film begins to take on a life of its own.
A few days after returning from my amazing trip overseas, I received an email from the festival organizers, saying that a close collaborator of theirs was interested in screening my film for the upcoming Africa Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda in August. Would I grant them permission?
Would I? This is exactly the type of opportunity I was hoping this film would have. With such an epic and overwhelming topic as climate change, I would like my film to hopefully inspire that young child who might someday be a scientist, activist or inventor who can help our planet fight this important problem.
In case you won’t be attending this conference in Rwanda, you can see the film at film festivals this August in San Diego and Los Angeles in the United States, as well as Calabria, Italy. If you missed the Conservation Optimism Film Festival this year, maybe you can make it next year! Who knows, maybe I’ll make a second film that will this time have its world premiere in Oxford and not during the Superbowl!