Center for Environmental Filmmaking Offers Degrees in Ethics and Conservation Filmmaking

Hippo in Imax Film Photo

Image source: Center for Environmental Filmmaking

Al Gore and your Inconvenient Truth, look out, because the Center for Environmental Filmmaking is hot on your trail. Founded in 2005 at American University in Washington, DC, the Center offers students the chance to save the world through a lens, a very critical lens and move past blue-chip films which do little to inspire aggressive conservation actions.Opportunities for Students

Students at the School of Communications can major in Film, with a concentration in Environmental and Wildlife Filmmaking. Classes include "Producing Environmental and Wildlife Films" "Classroom in the Wild" where students can take trips to Alaska, Australia, the Chesapeake Bay and Florida, and "Environmental and Wildlife Production" where students can produce films for network television.

Ethical issues in filmmaking, and especially wildlife filmmaking where animals are involved, are also stressed in courses. Students are taught the value of not putting the shot over the safety of the animal, and learn how to make films that are valuable to audiences, but that also make a return so filmmakers don't have to sell-out. The Center, along with the Center for Social Media is developing a best practices for filmmakers to help "green" the film industry and lower emissions during filmmaking.

Center for Environmental Filmmaking Image

The program was originally developed in 2004 as a way to fill a niche and to help garner more support for the green movement, which was really just becoming mainstream. While other schools are building compost piles and purchasing green power, the leaders of the School of Communications see film as a very powerful tool to not only get the word out on current problems, but also as a way to encourage action and solutions. Each month, speakers, films and other events are held at SOC's Wechsler Theatre to showcase what is available.

Environmental Film Festivals

The school also hosts several film festivals, including the Visions Film Festival (only open to AU students) and the CEF and EarthEcho's International Student Short Film Festival, part of the DC Environmental Film Festival, which accepts submissions from the public. Professional film-makers are often the guest speakers in class, and students have the opportunity to work in production companies and have their films broadcast on stations around the area and on the global arena.

Funding and scholarships are available to help students enter film festivals and contests. Besides promoting their work in festivals, Palmer offered advice recently in a Filmmakers in Conservation article, on how to break into the field:

- Choose a topic you are passionate about it and know it inside and out.
- Write a "treatment" that you both entertains and educates.
- Spend just as much time on marketing as on the film.
- Know your audience.
- Find ways to distribute the film on different platforms (tv, video, dvd, etc)
- Become an engaging speaker and network network network.
- Be an entrepreneur.
- Stand by your principles.

Founder Chris Palmer and His "Wild" Past

Everest Imax Film Photo

The Center was organized by Chris Palmer, an environmental filmmaker with 25 years experience working in the field producing films for IMAX, Disney Channel, Animal Planet, TBS Superstation, PBS and the Outdoor Life Network, to name a few. He also founded VideoTakes, Inc, a production studio in Arlington, VA, and cofounded film studios for National Audubon Society Productions and National Wildlife Productions (part of the National Wildlife Federation).

Palmer recently wrote an article on conservation filmmaking and the downsides of blue-chip films, those which show mostly wildlife scenes, are not controversial and tend to make the viewer complacent when it comes to conservation. Filmmakers, especially student filmmakers, have a hard time balancing the need for funding and sponsors, with the desire to make a film that tells a story and shows environmental issues in terms of what is really going on.

To learn more about enrolling, visit American University's School of Communications or the Center for Environmental Filmmaking.

More on Environmental Filmmaking
New Mexico's Green Filmmaking Program
Big Sky Documentary Festival and High Plains Films
BBC Documentary: Planet Earth

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