Magazine of Northern
May 20, 2015
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SF Green Festival
by Don Schwartz
The founder of SF Green Festival, Rachel Caplan, decides to go for a 'beauty shot' this year, in lieu of last year's promo shot that had her covered in plastic bags. photo: courtesy R. Caplan
There she is. In the picture, in last year's
about the maiden voyage of the San Francisco Green Film Festival. Rachel Caplan. Covered in plastic bags from above her head to the floor.
Although hesitant to talk about herself, Caplan is obviously not shy about using wardrobe to make a point—obviously as well, not too shy about establishing herself in a leadership position in the international communities of filmmakers and environmental activists.
Curious about who Rachel Caplan is and how she came to meld two of my life passions—film and the environment, I took advantage of the second annual
Green Film Festival
coming up this March to send her an email, and was thoroughly delighted to have my curiosity quenched by this most-admirable woman. I began my interview with the simple and obvious.
What is your background? How did you come to found and direct the San Francisco Green Film Festival?
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. I grew up there and on the west coast in the Highlands. Then I went to university in Manchester, a degree in History of Modern Art and Architecture. At that time, I [also] studied film quite extensively, focusing on surrealist film of the twentieth century. I received my Masters Degree in Cinema and Television at the British Film Institute.
What happened after you got your Masters Degree?
After I graduated with an Art History Degree, I had a keen interest in film [and] I wasn't entirely sure what career path to take. I got an internship at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which turned into a full-time position.
I was there for twelve months and, by that point, I really had gotten bitten by the film festival bug, and got incredibly interested in exhibition and film distribution—that moment when the audience and film connect, when the credits roll and the lights come up, and just this incredible a-ha moment in the auditorium. That's my passion—connecting filmmakers with their audiences.
After I received that degree I got a job working at the London Film Festival, and then wanted to learn more about the industry. So I worked for a sales agent in London, marketing films for Guy East at Intermedia. After that I got a job working in London doing international theatrical publicity for Paramount, Universal, and DreamWorks. That was an incredible studio experience—travelling with films and filmmakers to festivals, being on the other side, attending film festivals with films.
Then my boyfriend (now husband) got a job working at UC Berkeley, which brought us to America for one year, and that was eight years ago. We came to San Francisco, and just didn't leave.
I was very fortunate and got a job working at the San Francisco Film Society. I was there for three years which included working as executive assistant for Graham Leggat. I also served as Board Treasurer for Bay Area Women in Film and Media from 2008-2011, and a longtime member of BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). And then —shall I keep going?
I'm sure there are many other things along the way that I left out—including I was an industry script reader in London for FilmFour and the Script Factory. But my heart and passion is really working for film festivals, rather than on the studio or production side.
Then I got interested in environmental issues—around climate change, and environmental justice, the most crucial challenges facing our generation. So I wanted to change track from working in film, and I started exploring green organizations, working for environment non-profits, and was really prepared to make a career transition.
And then a job came up, Director for the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, which is a wonderful festival showing films about the marine environment. There's a huge and dedicated ocean-minded community here in San Francisco. Very loyal audiences.
I suddenly realized that in terms of the environmental movement, this is where I can contribute the most. Film is my passion—an incredibly powerful tool for bringing important issues and messages to audiences, to the public. So, there was a chain reaction that brought me to the Green Film Festival.
Another thing, I was really glad you mentioned in your email to me [the documentary film] 'The Age of Stupid' because it reminded me that this was a huge trigger as well. There was a screening of 'The Age of Stupid' at the San Francisco International Film Festival about four years ago.
[Writer/director] Franny Armstrong was there. And there was a tremendous Q&A after the film. She was coming at the film from a completely different place and very activist-oriented. She had all kinds of resources, she asked the audience to get involved, to become active participants in the issues around the film.
And she was self-funding and self-distributing. She was a really exciting and refreshing model. The way she was using film was as a tool to inspire change, to give people an opportunity to share and discuss, and then get involved and do something that made a difference.
And so I was at the Ocean Film Festival at this time, and people kept sending me films about agriculture, beetles, and monkeys, and mining and farming. It became clear that everything we do winds up in the ocean, but the damage is being done on the land as that’s where the people are. That's where the relationship is with the planet, the way we use it.
And these films didn't have a natural platform in San Francisco, a festival which would try to present the films in a slightly different way. So at this time I got this spark of an idea, a need for this space for a green film festival, for an engaging, forward-thinking, proactive festival that can highlight this relationship between people and the planet, and present well-crafted films which can be used as tools for engaging people in environmental causes. This was in 2009.
And then I started pitching this idea in the community, and there was a really enthusiastic response. So in 2010, I decided to jump in and launch the San Francisco Green Film Festival. We were about 12 months in the planning of it, and launched the festival last March, and it was attended by 2,000 people.
Who funded it?
As Founder, I put in much of the seed money from my own savings. And then got support from the community, we have a very generous foundation that absolutely jumped onboard right away and helped put in some of the seed funds. And we have hugely supportive corporate sponsors and individual donors. There is also a very proactive Advisory Board and a small army of brilliant volunteers.
Is this a full-time job for you?
Yes. We also do year-round programs and events. We do a regular screening series at the San Francisco Public Library and at other community events. We have a grand vision to expand our year-round program around the Bay Area.
What's happening with the upcoming festival?
Yes. The festival is March 1st through 7th. We'll be at the brand new, state-of-the-art San Francisco Film Society New People Cinema, in Japan Town, which the Film Society opened last Fall. We've expanded to a week-long event, and have themes ranging from urban agriculture to sustainable seafood, energy, green design, eco-activism, and wildlife conservation.
'What can I do?' is the most frequent question we heard at the 2011 festival and, in response, we’re introducing a new program 'Lights! Camera! Action Steps!' at the 2012 festival. The program will provide attendees with take-away action steps and group activities that create tangible ways to stay involved in the issues presented in the films.
Any highlights you want to share?
A few highlights would include 'Urban Roots', a film about urban farming in Detroit—a very inspirational and uplifting film about a city on the verge of renaissance. Another film would be 'You've Been Trumped' about local landowners in Scotland opposing Donald Trump's attempt to destroy their land and an area that's a protected wilderness habitat in order to build golf courses—an emotive 'David and Goliath' story with echoes of [Bill Forsyth's] "Local Hero". This is a fantastic film by Anthony Baxter, a first-time filmmaker.
We have a film, 'Waking the Green Tiger', about the rise of the environmental movement in China—very interesting documentary, with archival footage from the Maoist regime most of which has not been seen outside China—and, again, a very compelling and inspiring film. We have "Just Do It". It's a special sneak preview about modern-day outlaws, civil disobedience—it's a year spent with underground environmental activists.
We also have panel discussions, a great opening night party, a free schools program, and several local films—including one World Premiere! —to be announced shortly. The full schedule and ticket information will be on our website on February 1st.
Thanks, Rachel. It seems the Festival has the perfect founder and director. To caption the obvious, you're making an immeasurable contribution to our world, and my hat's off to you. See you at the Festival!
Posted on Feb 01, 2012 - 04:57 AM