‘Tales From Planet Earth’ Festival looks to the environment’s future

"Before Tomorrow" helps kick off the festival tonight at the Union South Marquee.
"Before Tomorrow" helps kick off the festival tonight at the Union South Marquee.

“Before Tomorrow” helps kick off the festival tonight at the Union South Marquee.

As implied in the UW Cinematheque’s newsletter earlier this week, UW-Madison’s cinematic players are indulging in a different variety of tale this weekend. A major effort of the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Tales From Planet Earth Festival brings its weekend-long, environmentally-minded programming to Madison.

The Festival’s long-held belief, that stories and storytellers can influence real-world change and environmental awareness, takes the form of “Futures” as this year’s theme. Influenced by the undeniable increase in climate change data and the resulting anxieties over the planet’s future, the 2013 Tales From Planet Earth Festival looks to a variety of programming — from Werner Herzog and classic science-fiction to startling and vivid documentaries.

The festival begins tonight at 7:00 at the Union South Marquee with a special roundtable discussion. Moderated by festival director and UW-Madison history of science professor Gregg Mitman, the roundtable will look at humanity’s relatively new role as a “species of planetary change” as viewed through several storytellers including novelist and Zen Buddhist Ruth Ozeki, Marie-Hélène Cousineau (co-director of Inuit film Before Tomorrow, which plays immediately after the roundtable) and Alex Rivera, the Fall 2013 Arts Institute Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence. Earlier this year, Rivera and Mittman also led a digital storytelling class for upper-level film students. Trailers for two of those resulting films will screen at the festival.

On Saturday and Sunday, the festival expands across four separate Madison venues. In addition to The Marquee at Union South, films will play at the Cinematheque headquarters (4070 Vilas Hall), the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Chazen Art Museum, and many screenings will be followed by exclusive appearances from experts and respective filmmakers. Protect Our Future, which plays Sunday in 4070 Vilas Hall, was made by three 14-year old members of Wisconsin’s Bad River Band as an argument against proposed mining operations in northern Wisconsin. In addition to a scheduled appearance by the filmmakers (Jordan Principato, Shania Jackson, Ahpahnae Thomas) the event will include a panel discussion on resource exploitation and the rights of indigenous peoples.

Other festival highlights include a screening of Jeff Orlowski’s gorgeous, devastating documentary Chasing Ice, Eva Weber’s French language documentary on New Guinea’s deficit of artificial light sources, Black Out, and Edouard Bergeon’s Sons of the Land, recording the dire financial straits of the modern farmer. As a nod to their regular programming, WUD Film has also scheduled Marquee midnight screenings of the original Planet of the Apes and The Road Warrior on Friday and Saturday, while Sunday features another Cinematheque Cinema-Scope selection in Richard Fleischer’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and a unique stop-motion short film from Ishu Patel.