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AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking kicks off spring film series with book launch

AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking kicks off spring film series with book launch

Despite the night’s heavy topic of unethical wildlife filmography, the general atmosphere in McKinley’s Doyle Forman Theater was light-hearted on March 24. Chris Palmer, founder and director of AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking, launched his new book “Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker” and announced the winner of the Eco-Comedy Video Competition.

This event was part of AU’s spring film series and the Washington D.C. Environmental Film Festival. Dean Jeffrey Rutenbeck of the School of Communication introduced Palmer, who kicked off the event by doing a handstand.

“Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker” is a memoir, but it’s also a confession of Palmer’s participation in unethical filmmaking and an indictment of television networks for allowing these unethical practices to occur.

During the discussion, Palmer showed clips from Discovery Channel’s “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives” to highlight the issue of viewer deception. “Megalodon” uses falsified archival footage and interviews with experts to convince viewers that this monster shark is still alive. Palmer urged the audience to write letters to these programming companies and their sponsors calling them out for their unethical practices.

“The key is to appeal to [people in the industry’s] sense of leaving a legacy,” Palmer said in an interview after the event. “All of us want to point to things we’ve accomplished [that] were good for society, and if you can only point to things like some of the clips I’ve shown tonight, you’re going to say to yourself ‘Was that really a good way to spend my time?’”

Palmer encouraged viewers to watch these wildlife programs with skepticism and to become educated viewers, as well as to speak out when something doesn’t seem right.

“You can write letters and use social media to say, ‘Can you believe this?’” Palmer said. “Let people know what you think, and always ask yourself ‘What’s going on there?’”

After his book was published, Palmer said he received many positive responses but also some angry letters, mostly from people who run game farms. Game farms are businesses that rent out animals for films to use, and filmmakers take these animals and pretend that they’re wild.

“People who feel their livelihood is threatened by me, and they should because I’m calling them out saying they shouldn’t do this, those people are understandably upset and lash back,” Palmer said.

Palmer, who does stand-up comedy in his free time, said he values humor as a method of engaging the audience, and this inspired him to launch the Eco-Comedy Film Competition seven years ago. This year the Center for Environmental Filmmaking partnered with the Nature Conservancy for the competition.

Film screenings

After Palmer’s book talk, there was a screening of the winning video as well as three finalists.

This year’s theme was clean air and clean water, and the winner was Patrick Webster for his video “DUDE! Or the Blissful Ignorance of Progress.” In the video, a human, seal, sensitive vegetation and polar bear discuss and demonstrate nearly every environmental issue to date.

Mother Nature was brought to life in Julia Marie Meyers and Day Al-Mohamed’s “Mother Nature,” where she frustratedly sweeps leaves, sending the message that Mother Nature is tired of cleaning up our messes. Meyers and Al-Mohamed’s video recived runner-up honors in the competition.

In the style of a National Geographic feature, “Water in the Wild” by Kimberley Grob depicts bottles of water in their natural habitat, the Bottled Water Serengeti.

The fourth place video was Alex Miller’s “Water Pressure,” about a man driven crazy by his roommate’s wasteful water habits, which include taking 40 minute showers every day.

Overall, the Eco-Comedy videos were well-received by the audience.

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