Students Bring Environmental Issues to the Silver Screen

An unusual assignment: pick an environmental issue and make a short documentary about it.

It's not the Academy Awards, but for Professor Robert Percival's Environmental Law class each year the annual Environmental Law Film Festival and Awards Ceremony has as much "buzz" as a Vanity Fair after-party. In the fall semester, students form small groups to produce short films about environmental issues that are of interest not only to them, but have an impact on the world around them. The Festival is held in the spring semester, and, in keeping with the environmental theme, the award-winning documentaries are presented with the alumni-coveted "Golden Tree" award.

Professor Percival explains that while the film production exercise is ungraded and optional, students discover that they learn a lot from it. "It challenges students by forcing them to confront the difficulty of translating complicated legal and policy issues into a form the average audience can understand." Among his other objectives are to "give students an opportunity to unleash their creativity" and simply to "make Environmental Law even more fun."

"Arsenic and Old Dirt," the winner of the award for Best Picture and Most Educational, examined how Baltimore City authorities are responding to the discovery of arsenic contamination in Swann Park. The film, which was produced by Katy Jackman ´09, Rene Parks ´09, and Rebecca Seitz ´09, featured interviews with residents living near the park, which has been closed to the public while extensive remediation of the contamination is conducted. In "The News," which won the award for Best Acting, Joey Chen ´10 and Rama Taib ´10 posed as network news anchors reporting on environmental issues. The film also featured Carter Beach ´10, assisted by John Archibald ´10, interviewing Shari T. Wilson, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), who discussed MDE’s priorities.

"Sustainable Harvest," by Natalie Baughman ´09, Lisetta Silvestri ´10, Kim Stefanski ´10, and Lynn McChrystal ´10, interviewed farmers at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market about the environmental benefits of producing and consuming locally grown organic produce. The film won for Best Interviews and Best Sound. "Marvesta Shrimp," produced by Eva Carbot ´10, Aminah Famili ´10, Jesse Iliff ´10, Emily Lipps ´10, Megan Mueller ´10, and Limor Weizmann ´10, focused on efforts by Eastern Shore entrepreneurs to develop more environmentally benign shrimp farming practices. "Urban Legends of the Inner Harbor" asked whether immediate medical attention was required if someone fell in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and perhaps swallowed some of the water. Andrew Keir ´10, Eric Hergenroeder ´10, Chris Montague-Breakwell ´10, Danielle Einik ´10, and Patrick Smith ´10 produced the film.

Some films addressed national environmental concerns. "There Doesn't Have to be Blood" by Jordan Vardon ´11 discussed efforts to increase U.S. energy independence by developing renewable energy alternatives to oil. Jordan reports that he has placed his film, which won the award for Best Narration, on YouTube where it has acquired "a cult following among friends." The film "GreenCo" by Kim Myers ´09 and Scott Yager ´10 took a satirical look at efforts by companies to "greenwash" their products through advertising touting their environmental consciousness. The film won the awards for Best Use of Humor and Best Use of Animation and Special Effects, and featured a spoof on the GEICO "caveman" ad campaign and a hilarious animated exchange between a Prius and a Hummer debating their respective virtues.

The Golden Trees were awarded based on the results of voting by judges who this year included Professors Taunya Banks, Kathleen Dachille, and Kathy Vaughns, as well as Laura Mrozek, Rita Turner, and Megan McDonald.

Golden Tree Awards

Students receive Golden Tree Awards for Filmmaking

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500 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-1786 PHONE: (410) 706-7214 FAX: (410) 706-4045 / TDD: (410) 706-7714

Copyright © 2014, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved