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Updated: Dec 15, 2022

100 students, faculty and community members gathered at USC's first ever Eco Film & Media Arts Festival to watch student's environmentally themed films and engage in an inspiring panel about climate storytelling and activism. Our panelists were Courtnee Zambrano, a screenwriter and producer who recently worked with Scott Z Burns' in an upcoming climate themed Apple TV show, and Jay Ponti, a grassroots political organizer who has participated in some of the most important movements of the last decade from Occupy Wall Street to Standing Rock. The panel was moderated by our lead student organizer Natasha Nutkiewicz, who is a senior theater and film student. We discussed the panelists' career journeys, big need for hopeful and informed climate stories, the challenges of being a young filmmaker and climate emotions while organizing.

Watch some of the student films here:

Natasha Nutkiewicz · Our Garden

William Higbie · Divest SC

Arian Tomar · Canaries of the Coast

Aristotle Hartzell · Lambent

Cole Slater · The Coccolithophore Lamp

Sanay Saboo · Free Plant

Jaime Lopez · Hex Chrome and the Community

Yayu Zheng & Mengyuan Qiao · Out of Sight

Braulio Hernandez · Right in Front of You

Neha Dhabale · Divine Intervention

Eduardo Maia & Melanie Robertson · Living Colors

Watch the full panel!

From a USC Annenberg Media article about the event:

"Each storyline is different, but all of the films work to share the same message, according to the festival’s prompt: ‘we must act now.’ Many of the film directors found the motivation to share this message through film because of their personal experiences, they said"

A few words from the lead organizer, Natasha Nutkiewicz:

Charles McCollum Photography Credit

"We all know the climate crisis is here. It's an emergency we can't continue to ignore. But why doesn't it get the attention it so desperately needs on TV, in movies, in podcasts, or even in the news? The absence is startling. According to the recent Good Energy and Norman Lear Center report, only 2.8% of 37,453 analyzed scripts from 2016 to 2020 contained climate keywords. We need to start telling stories about environmental justice, eco-feminism, and sustainable futures to culture hack, shift our collective consciousness and alter the course of our future. The stakes couldn't be higher, especially for storytellers and artists.

Charles McCollum Photography Credit

Instead of just sulking in eco-grief and anxiety as I have been for the past 2 years, I decided to use my skills as a producer and organize this film festival. I am just one person, right? But with the support of a collective, I was able to bring 100 people together to celebrate students already doing this work, raise awareness and inspire action. As young people, we have more power and agency than we think.

I couldn't be more grateful to the Arts & Climate Collective, Arts in Action, Assignment Earth, and Media Arts + Practice for supporting this event. Thank you, Colin McClay and Michael Bodie for helping me and trusting my vision. Thank you to everyone who came, your messages and words of encouragement mean the world. Thank you to the wonderful panelists, Courtnee Zambrano and Jay Ponti for your honesty and passion.

We have the science and solutions, now we need to tell the story and continue building a movement. This is just the start!"

Charles McCollum Photography Credit

"Your event inspired me so much. Thank you for bringing the community together and giving these artists a venue to showcase their work” - Eliana

Charles McCollum Photography Credit

"Thank you for inviting me! Seriously it was so inspirational to see everyone's stories and

hear what they had to say. In a way, it really made me think differently about the talent at

this school and really made me think about what I want my art to do for the world. If there's

anything else like last night going on please let me know because I'd love to come and

show my support again!!!" - CJ

Charles McCollum Photography Credit

For more pictures of the event, visit the Eco Film + Media Arts Festival: Photo Gallery here.

Stay engaged and join on campus sustainability efforts

Check out this opportunity: 2022 NRDC Climate Storytelling Fellowship.

Check out this resource: The Playbook: Resources for Climate Change Screenwriters

by Tori Frank

One of the things that struck me the most from the 2022 Arts and Climate Collective showcase and resource fair was the USC Office of Sustainability’s business cards. Yes, at an Earth Week celebration event overflowing with vegan food, amazing people and inventive projects, I couldn’t stop thinking about these business cards. See, they were no ordinary business card– printed on bleached stock paper bearing sharp corners. Rather, they were made out of recycled paper, and although they had all the functional features of a regular old business card, they were magical. When the card had served its purpose, it could be planted in the soil, watered daily, and from it wildflowers would grow.

I knew in that soft card there had to be a message somewhere waiting to be uncovered, so I kept the object between my fingers as I walked around the numerous presentations. And don’t get me wrong— I was also blown away by the output of the Arts and Climate Collective, an offshoot of the Annenberg Innovation Lab that brings together student artist activists in their united efforts against climate change. One of the student cohort members, Gwenan Walker, walked me through the labor-heavy process of bringing to life her animated film The Voyager. For Gwenan, this meant erecting an entire world set 250 years into the dystopian future, conveying through cartoon characters the lived pressure of growing-up with an imminent climate crisis, all while independently starting an online art auction charity. At another stand, Josh Squash / Palmer, a computer science PHD candidate, used his table to physically represent their difficult journey of shifting technologies into paradigms of nourishment and spiritual connection. Take time to talk to the barefooted hang-drum player, and you’ll gain great wisdom into trees of life, ancestral connections, spatial mapping and centering the “full spectrum of what it means to be human.”

These conversations were intense, but pulsating with vibrant energy. Like a tiny stream turning into a raging river, I could feel the ever-growing momentum of the ACC. So much had recently come to fruition, such as two documentaries about local environmental justice activists made by ACC member Jaime Lopez. However, during the Q&A section of the event, I caught a glimpse into the past, before the waters raged as they did now. One of the speakers, Diana Salinas Vargas, as explained by moderator and Executive Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab Colin Maclay, chose “not to do a [traditional] project, but to do the project that is to build ACC.” Diana took her first step into the world of climate activism when they became an intern at the ACC. “It was scary,” she said during the panel. “It’s scary when you don't have much of a background or experience with environmental justice issues, and it seems like everyone has a long resume of activism, of work. Sometimes when you want to go into [something] for the first time, it’s frightening. But ACC was very welcoming, I’m learning as I’m working here.” Listening to Diana speak candidly about the significant barriers of entry into a space in which she was now literally center stage felt very representative of the event's mission at large; not just a celebration of success, but a garden of opportunity for anyone new to freely enter.

Sitting next to Diana on stage was Eytan Stanton, a 2022 cohort member and good friend of mine. Last semester, Eytan and I attended Regenerate, the 2021 ACC showcase. Afterwards, we sat in the Roski courtyard and gushed over the talent and inspiration we had just experienced. In between bites of buffalo cauliflower wings, Eytan opened up about his recent questioning of the fence around USC's campus. A couple months passed, and through countless hours of textual research, media mixing and bike-backed community canvassing, Eytan emerged to proudly present his visually demanding project Interra-gate. “Can I ask you, what’s the number one public area in this map extent that you spend time?” Eytan asked the attendees, then guided them to actually mark the map with their answer. Would they too leave the event with racing thoughts about the relationship between USC’s gated campus and its surrounding neighborhood? Would the ACC tree grow another branch, a new member in its flourishing cohort?

Through attending climate justice events and presentations such as this one, I keep encountering a cyclical pattern of amazement into action. A project here sparks a conversation there, recognition from one becomes motivation for another. This connectivity is how we are sustaining a movement, especially one that is up against existentially important issues. There is no shame in admitting the anxiety and fatigue that accompanies this fight. However, our cumulative efforts are both tremendous and impactful. Until that day, I would never have thought that something as simple as a sustainably designed business card could bring me such hope. But that one idea helped me to imagine the sheer amount of other idea seeds out there, just waiting to be planted and improve upon the unsustainable normal. We are living through a treacherous age, but with enough water from one another, wildflowers will surely grow.

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