The Greentopia Film Festival returns next week for another year of bringing advocacy through film to Rochester audiences. Held Tuesday, March 17, though Saturday, March 21, the festival will present 34 films from 20 countries around the world — including eight locally-produced films and several New York State and world premieres. Festival Director Linda Moroney has put together a great collection of documentaries spanning a variety of subjects, from agriculture to America's prison systems, each one demonstrating the breadth of socially-conscious filmmaking by exploring the world around us and showcasing the power of documentary filmmaking to be an agent of change.
Tickets for individual films are $10 with discounts available for groups and students, as well as a variety of full-festival pass options ($40-$150). Read on for our take on a small sampling of this year's films, and check greentopia.org/film for a complete schedule of events and ticket information. For added incentive, audiences will receive an extra treat this year: live entertainment is scheduled before each film screening. All screenings are at The Little Theatre (240 East Avenue), except for the Short Courses program at Good Luck. On Thursday, March 19, there will be a series of free discussions beginning at 5 p.m. at Urban Forest Cinema in Browns Race Market, 60 Browns Race.
The festival gets off to a delicious start with the now-traditional evening of Short Courses. This popular event pairs four short films with four food courses prepared by the talented crew of Good Luck restaurant. Tickets are $75 per person, and tend to sell out quickly. (Tuesday, March 17, 6 p.m.)
The town of "Florence, Arizona" is home to a whopping nine different correctional facilities, with 17,000 incarcerated inmates residing in them — a number which far dwarfs the population living outside those prison walls. Director Andrea B. Scott presents a cross-section of the town as she investigates the ways that the presence of these prisons is become ingrained in every aspect of life in Florence, whether it be the use of prisoners as a cheap labor force, or the jails' roll as a major job supplier to the community. Meanwhile the influx of private industry has turned incarceration into big business. Our country's ever-growing prison system is a subject ripe for a probing documentary, but that's not the film Scott is interested in making. A stronger central thesis might have made the film feel more cohesive, but it's an intriguing portrait of a town that's grown to be defined by its place in the nation's prison industrial complex. (Friday, March 20, 9:30 p.m.)
Existing somewhere between documentary and narrative, "Walking Under Water" follows Alexan and his young nephew, Sari, two of the few remaining members of the Badjao culture. A nomadic tribe of fishermen, the Badjao live mostly on the waters off the islands between Borneo, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Director Eliza Kubarska's cameras observe as Sari finds himself caught between two worlds: learning the culture and traditions of his people while resisting the lure of modern civilization represented by the nearby resort, where he has the chance to make an easier living by leading tourists on scuba diving excursions. Boasting gorgeous underwater cinematography, the film presents a fascinating glimpse into an unseen world. (Saturday, March 21, 1:30 p.m.)
Screened last year at Austin's SXSW Film Festival, "Beginning With the End" trains it eye on a group of students enrolled in a unique elective class offered to high school seniors at Rochester's Harley school: hospice care. Created by instructor Bob Kane as a way of combating our culture's "death denial," the class tasks students with taking care of terminally ill patients nearing the end of their days. Director David Marshall's moving film examines the profound impact this experience has on the students, as the invincibility of youth is forced to confront the inevitable role death plays in each of our lives. (Saturday, March 21, 3:45 p.m.)
Also tackling the subject of our species' relationship with death, "The Immortalists" follows two scientists, Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey, who have dedicated their careers to finding a cure for the number one killer of human beings the world over: old age. Reversing the process of aging and living forever are appealing ideas, but directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg don't explore the thorny moral questions the scientists' work raises as much as I would have liked, allowing their film to become a bit too focused on the idiosyncratic personal lives of the somewhat eccentric scientists. It's hard not to feel a sense of the filmmakers' own judgments creeping into the proceedings. Still, the controversial nature of the film's subject is sure to prompt some spirited debate following the screening. (Saturday, March 21, 8:30 p.m.)