For nearly a decade students in Professor Percival's Environmental Law class have enjoyed an unusual assignment: to split up into small groups and make a short film about an environmental issue that concerns them. The purpose of the ungraded assignment is to make students think about how to communicate complicated regulatory policy issues to the public. With the rise of You Tube and other new media outlets, digital videomaking has become a valuable tool for influencing public opinion.
A total of 32 students in the fall 2010 Environmental Law class made nine environmental law films. As in past years the films demonstrated their enormous creativity. On March 23 the coveted "Golden Tree" awards were presented to the best films in ten categories as voted by an independent panel of judges.
This year's top award-winner was "Silent Running" a spoof of the 1972 film that was one of the first environmental movies ever made. Filmmakers Ovais Anwar, Becca Brown, Mike Spinelli, Matt Standeven, Gregory Sunshine, and Brittany Tang-Sundquist used Lego figures to tell the story of a crew member of a spaceship harboring Earth’s last nature reserves who goes beserk when instructed to destroy them. The student version of the film won Golden Trees for “Best Picture”, “Best Use of Humor,” and “Best Special Effects.”
Also winning multiple awards was the film “The Story of the Patapsco” by Luis Diaz, Andrew Goldman, Jacob Holtz, and Esther Houseman. The film explored the history of the Patapsco River watershed south of Baltimore. It won Golden Trees for “Best Acting” and “Best Sound.”
The Golden Tree for “Best Interviews” was presented to the film “Go Beyond” by Amalia Pleake-Tamm, Steven Isbister, and Peter Hogge. The film interviewed a young couple who were featured in a major oil company’s ad campaign to convince the public that the company was serious about developing alternative energy sources. The couple told about how they were discovered by an ad agency’s film crew while shopping at a weekend farmer’s market.
For the first time in festival history, two musicals were entered. “Trashy Mermaid” by Natasha Mehu, Emily Estrada, Nathan Horne, and Ajoke Agbola won the Golden Tree for “Best Music.” A parody of Disney’s Little Mermaid, the filmmakers had Ariel singing not about love, but rather about how pollution is harming the ocean. Another student film, “ANWR: The Musical,” is a lengthy rock opera sung by sock puppets about the long-running controversy over whether to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Patrick McDonough, Jana Schultz, Emily Eisenrauch, Scott Lindsay and Courtney Leas produced the film.
The award for “Best Cinematography” went to Christina Gubitosa and Matt Peters for their film “Don’t Jump in the Harbor.” These filmmakers interviewed public health experts about the consequences for public health of pollution in the Baltimore Harbor.
This year’s Special Judges’ Award went to the film “Oysters in the Chesapeake Bay,” which was produced by Mike Adams, Hajrah Ahma, Kasia Fertala, and Justine Moreau. The award was for the best use of the “Ken Burns” effect in a student film. An independent film production (by a single student, Corin Vick) won the award for “Most Educational” for his film “Geoengineering” that explored proposals to combat climate change by injecting reflective material into the upper atmosphere.
A terrific film overlooked by Academy voters was “LEED” by Stephanie Dahl, Tyler Moser, and Paul Robinson. Robinson, an evening student whose day job is managing the construction of Patapsco Hall at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, used the film to explain why the project qualified for certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
The Environmental Law Program would like to express its sincere appreciation to all those who served as judges for the Golden Tree awards, including Professors Taunya Banks, Danielle Citron, Kathleen Dachille, and Kathleen Vaughns, Research and Instructional Technology Librarian Jill Smith, Yale World Fellow Kala Mulqueeny, Zhenxi Zhong from Shanghai Roots & Shoots, former Fulbright scholar Mary O’Laughlin, Dominic Dachille and Richard Percival.