AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking
By Chris Palmer, Director
January 29, 2017
The following report provides an overview of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking’s activities and events taking place during the 2016/2017 period. The Center’s programs are made possible by the generosity of the foundations and donors listed at the end.
With Dean Emeritus Larry Kirkman’s support, I founded the Center 12 years ago at the School of Communication to address the world’s unprecedented environmental challenges, from climate disruption to species extinction.
Powerful films, images, and stories can play a key role in fostering conservation and bringing about change. We are committed to raising awareness and empowering action through the innovative use of media. Our campaign mantra is: Changing lives. Fostering creativity. Conserving our environment through the power of media.
Our mission is to inspire a new generation of filmmakers and media experts whose commitment to environmental stewardship drives them to produce creative work that is informative, ethically sound, and entertaining—and that makes a positive difference. Our signature initiatives include:
Creating partnerships with established organizations—Maryland Public Television, the National Park Service, The Humane Society of the United States, and others—that give students the opportunity to produce professional films.
Bringing world-class filmmakers to American University to speak, teach, and mentor.
Developing innovative, interdisciplinary, and experiential classes and programs.
Promoting the ethical treatment of wildlife and the environment.
Awarding student scholarships and fellowships.
Supporting and mentoring environmental and wildlife filmmakers in a variety of other ways.
More information about our programs can be found on our website www.environmentalfilm.org and at www.ChrisPalmerOnline.com.
Here is a list of our current projects and programs. Please click on hyperlinks for more information:
Center Scholars : This year’s nine Center Scholars are Emma Dacol, Sirjaut Dhariwal, Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath, Ashley Holmes, Megan King, Dorian Russell, Sam Sheline, Crystal Solberg, and Kent Wagner. All these outstanding students are being recognized for their determination to make films that matter, that make a difference, and that make the world a better place. All have demonstrated diligence, creativity, and passion. Each student receives $2,000.
Mavis and Sidney John Palmer Scholarship: This scholarship (endowed with $50,000) honors outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated a commitment to conservation and wildlife filmmaking. The winners this year were Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath, Ashley Holmes, Megan King, and Kent Wagner.
Sheila and Bill Wasserman Grant: Thanks to Sheila and Bill Wasserman, the Center awarded a $17,000 grant (which included a $8,500 matching grant from the Ernst & Young Foundation) to graduate student Kent Wagner for his film about the deforestation of Indonesia and the plight of Bornean orangutans. Combined with other grants from the Center, Kent Wagner has received over $24,000 to make his film. The film will focus on the exploitation of natural resources and will examine the effects it is having on wildlife habitat, climate change, and on Borneo's indigenous people known as the Dayak. Kent has twice received the Center for Environmental Filmmaking’s Center Scholars Award, as well as the Mavis and Sidney John Palmer Scholarship, and the Center for Environmental Filmmaking’s Challenge Prize. He has also been awarded a student fellowship grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting where an article related to the film can be found. Two short trailers by Kent are also available. One trailer (https://vimeo.com/187937437) points out the social ramifications of the situation, while the other (https://vimeo.com/187926646) showcases the potential environmental costs of the deforestation. The film is scheduled to be completed by June 2018
$3,000 Challenge Prize: Thanks to Bill and Laurie Benenson, the Center has an annual awards program for graduate students who have overcome challenges in their lives and plan to use environmental and wildlife films to make the world a better place. The following three SOC graduate students each won Challenge Prizes for combating adversity (sexism, Islamophobia, and ageism): Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath, Doaa Nour, and Kent Wagner. Elizabeth, Doaa, and Kent will each receive $3,000. Details about the Center’s annual Challenge Prize are at this link.
Senior Scholars: When an appropriate candidate can be identified, the Center awards a $5,000 stipend to honor distinguished professionals whose work supports and exemplifies the Center’s mission. The first winner of this award in 2013 was filmmaker Sandy Cannon-Brown. The Center is currently evaluating new candidates.
National Park Service Fellowship: Through a partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), the fellowship program provides graduate students with the opportunity to produce films for NPS as paid employees. The fellowship’s flagship project, the web series America’s Wilderness, has produced a diverse collection of films to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Recent NPS Fellows include Sarah Gulick, Erin Finicane, and Sylvia Johnson.
Maryland Public Television Partnership: Our long-standing partnership with MPT gives students the opportunity to produce professional films for Chesapeake Bay Week on public television stations. The student-produced films from this program have received numerous awards, including six Student Emmys and several CINE Golden Eagles. MPT’s Emmy Award-winning executive producer Mike English teaches the class. This year his students produced a 30-minute film, Keeping the Potomac: The Politics of Water, which aired on MPT and other PBS stations on January 24, 2017, and will air again during Chesapeake Bay Week in April 2017. It will also be screened at the Environmental Film Festival on March 22 at 7 pm at AU. The film examines the efforts of three local river keepers to hold polluters accountable along the Potomac River watershed. The filmmakers were Tony Brunner, Chelsea Greene, Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath, Sarah Liebman, Doaa Nour, Raffi Paul, Sam Sheline, Xinyi Song, and Kent Wagner. Herzfeldt-Kamprath, Sheline, and Wagner played key leadership roles.
Films on Sustainable Farming: The Center has received three grants from the Prince Charitable Trusts (PCT) to produce films on sustainable farming. Center Scholar Aditi Desai produced Farming for the Future in 2013. In 2014, Aditi Desai and Center Scholar Vanina Harel produced a second film called Fifty Years of Farming: For Love & Vegetables. Their third film, produced in 2015, is called The Culture of Collards. All three films were screened at the Environmental Film Festival last March. The Center received a fourth grant from PCT for $20,000 to distribute and market the films. We have developed viewer guides for these three films.
Film on the Vanquishing of a Disney Park: The Center also received a $65,000 grant from the Prince Charitable Trusts to produce a film about the victorious citizen-led campaign against a theme park and development project Disney planned to build next to hallowed Civil War battlefields in the Virginia Piedmont region. The producer is graduate student and Center Scholar Sam Sheline, the director of photography is Tony Azios, and the editor is Adam Lee—all SOC students or alumni. When Mickey Came to Town premiered at the Environmental Film Festival last March. The film was broadcast nationally on Link TV last November. Here is the companion website.
How To Videos: SOC film student Jennifer Lewis produced five short “how-to” videos: What Goes in Your Gear Bag, Weatherproofing Gear, What to Wear, Tips for Framing, and End of Day Habits. Marc Tomik used them to help SOC’s recruitment efforts, SOC alum Jamey Warner was on-camera talent, and George Marshall created the web page.
MFA Concentration in Environmental and Wildlife Filmmaking: Under Brigid Maher’s leadership, the MFA program now has three concentrations, including Environmental and Wildlife Filmmaking led by the Center.
Classroom in the Wild/Chesapeake Bay: This annual outdoor class, now ongoing for 11 years, offers students and the public a one-week program in March on the Chesapeake Bay as an introduction to the challenge and excitement of environmental filmmaking. Graduate students, filmmakers, and Center Scholars, Vanina Harel and Nick Zachar will lead the program March 11-18, 2017.
Classroom in the Wild/Extreme HD Alaska: Under the leadership of Center Associate Director Larry Engel and Brian Horner, this summer class offers students and the public a one week, one credit, immersive course in filmmaking in Alaska under challenging environmental and expeditionary conditions.
Funding Conservation films: The Center provides funding and filmmaking expertise and equipment to students and others making films on conservation. See Center Vimeo page and Center YouTube page.
Film Series with Filmmakers: Many Tuesday evenings at 7 pm throughout the school year, the Center hosts events in the Doyle/Forman Theater with renowned filmmakers and environmental advocates. The Center creates and hosts about 15 events every year, attracting large public and student audiences. Recent speakers have come from the top ranks of Animal Planet, Discovery, Smithsonian, National Geographic, and PBS. The film series, now in its 13th year, is an “SOC Signature Series.”
Eco-Comedy Video Competition: The Center created this annual international competition, sponsored by The Nature Conservancy’s Maryland/DC chapter, to encourage the use of humor to promote conservation. We receive about 100 submissions annually from all over the world and the winner wins a $2,000 cash prize.
The Humane Society of the United States partnership: Last year, the Center and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) formed a partnership in which SOC graduate students make short videos to tell great stories and help animals at the same time. The two graduate students selected to pioneer this program were Ashley Holmes and Emma Kouguell. They each made two videos and HSUS is delighted by their work. Ashley and Emma each covered a Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS) clinic with their video cameras, shooting footage and gathering interviews with veterinarians, pet owners, and students. From this footage, they created and produced four inspiring short videos for HSUS’s website. The Center for Environmental Filmmaking gave Ashley and Emma each a $500 stipend, and HSUS covered their travel and accommodation expenses. The program will continue this coming year.
Visions Festival award for Best Environmental Film: The Center awards an annual $2,000 cash prize for the best environmental film at the Visions Festival.
An Evening with Chris Palmer: (7 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at AU) At this annual event during the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, I discuss conservation films and show numerous clips. This year I will be showcasing the best food films of all time.
Student Short Environmental Film Festival (7 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at AU): This annual event during the Environmental Film Festival (EFF) exhibits and celebrates the best conservation short films produced by students nationwide.
OK, I’ve Watched the Film—Now What? (7 pm Thursday, March 23, 2017 at AU): The Center creates and hosts this EFF event annually to draw attention to the need for conservation films to be far more than distracting entertainment. Multifaceted and multilayered campaigns are essential to produce real results and have a measurable impact. Our panelists last year included Oscar-nominated filmmaker and environmental advocate Josh Fox (GasLand) and award-winning producer and director Wendy Ettinger, co-founder of Chicken & Egg Pictures.
Sponsorships of Many Film Festivals: The Center sponsors many film festivals, including the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conference, and the Blue Vision Summit. In addition to sponsorships, the Center also helps students attend these festivals. For example, the Center paid for the expenses of ten students to attend the American Conservation Film Festival last November.
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital: Every March, the Center hosts about six EFF events at AU and is deeply involved in creating and planning them. The Center also hosts an annual networking lunch at AU for about 40 filmmakers attending EFF.
Shooting in the Wild Campaign (book and film): This ongoing campaign to reform wildlife filmmaking practices is inspired by my book Shooting in the Wild, now in its second printing. In 2014, SOC produced a companion film (of the same name) hosted by Alexandra Cousteau, which aired on public television stations nationwide. The film was made possible by generous grants from the Park Foundation, the Shared Earth Foundation, and the Norcross Foundation. My book, Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker, which is highly critical of some major television networks, was published in March 2015 to further this campaign.
Now What, Grad? Your Path To Success After College: Rowman & Littlefield published my latest book in December 2015. It is designed to help not only environmental filmmakers, but also other up-and-coming professionals, too. Here is a short video by filmmaker and graduate student Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath about “elevator speeches.” Here is the full 10-part companion video series. Elizabeth also made this 1-minute video on what students are most stressed and worried about. I wrote Now What, Grad? to help students facing those challenges. All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to fund student scholarships. Here is the link to the book on Amazon.com. SOC launched the book with a packed event on December 15, 2015 that was part of a coordinated outreach effort to prospective students, current students, and alumni. R&L plans to publish a 2nd Edition this coming year. Last year, I launched a new class called Design Your Life for Success: Find Out What Really Matters To You And How To Live Wisely And With Passion. 60 students packed the classroom.
26. [endif]Seven camera kits and other equipment: Thanks to the Norcross Foundation, many students have taken advantage of all this Center gear, including students in our Classroom in the Wild programs. Thanks to Larry Engel, the Center is also acquiring a Virtual Reality camera.
Discover the World of Communication summer program for high school students under Professor and Associate Center Director Sarah Menke-Fish’s leadership: The Center gave a $775 Scholarship to a selected student with academic need to participate in the Discover the World of Communication Program. The Center will continue this support in 2017.
Environmental Film Workshops: Under Sarah Menke-Fish’s leadership, more than 400 students from Montgomery County Public Schools, Howard County Public Schools and DC Public Schools participated in several hands-on environmental film workshops held in February 2016 at AU, and on location at select middle and high schools. More than 50 AU faculty, AU Alums, MFA and MA candidates, and Film and Media Arts students worked with the students to guide them and support them with their filmmaking efforts. The Center will continue this program in 2017 and 2018.
Professor and Associate Center Director Maggie Burnette Stogner: In the classroom and beyond, Maggie Stogner works with students to develop ideas and productions for nonprofit environmental groups and for film competitions such as the Center’s Eco-Comedy Video Competition. She continues to nurture and support the Center’s award-winning students. She advises thesis and capstone projects, many of which have won impressive recognition in festivals. Professor Stogner is a Distinguished Judge for the CINE Golden Awards and serves regularly as a judge for National and Primetime Emmy Awards. For the past four years, she has been invited to judge the finalists for the Emmy's “Best Documentary” and “Best Natural History” categories.
Professor and Associate Center Director Larry Engel: Larry Engel is producing Harvest Home: A Refuge for Wounded Warriors (WT). The film follows Team Capitol DC’s Harvest Home, which was part of the 2013 DOE Solar Decathlon competition in which American University, Catholic University, and George Washington University partnered to build a solar and sustainable home. He continues to serve on the steering committee of the new AU Environmental Collaborative (ECOllaborative). Larry also serves as a judge for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and the AAAS-Kavli science journalism awards.
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I thank Dean Jeff Rutenbeck, Prof. John Douglass, and Prof. Brigid Maher for all their support. And I thank Larry Engel, Sandy Cannon-Brown, Sarah Menke-Fish, and Maggie Burnette Stogner—the four Associate Directors of the Center—for all they have done to contribute to the depth and breadth of the Center’s programs.
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking’s activities and programs are made possible by the generosity of the following individuals, foundations, and other organizations. I am honored to recognize them and to thank them for their support:
Wallace Genetic Foundation, Frances & Benjamin Benenson Foundation, Shared Earth Foundation, Saint Paul Foundation, Turner Foundation, Prince Charitable Trusts, Herbert W. Hoover Foundation, Ramsay Merriam Fund, Henry Foundation, Mead Family Foundation, Norcross Wildlife Foundation, Ernst & Young Foundation, Merrill G. & Emita E. Hastings Foundation, T. Rowe Price Associates Foundation, and The Nature Conservancy.
Special thanks to Joan Murray, Bill and Laurie Benenson, Caroline Gabel, Gil Ordway, Caroline Ramsay Merriam, Elysabeth Kleinhans, Elizabeth Ruml, Lucy Waletzky, Wool Henry, Angel Braestrup, Lacey Hoover, Colton Hoover Chase, Mark Butterworth, Betsy Mead, Diana Mead, Christelle Siohan, Sheila and Bill Wasserman, Lisa Peterfreund, Todd Robinson, Carolynn Brunette, Kristin Pauly, Leonard Berman, John McMurray, Elizabeth Gray, Kay Summers, Whitney Hall and other generous supporters.
Professor Chris Palmer
Author of Now What, Grad? Your Path to Success After College (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015),
Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker (Bluefield Publishing, 2015),
and Shooting in the Wild (Sierra Club Books, 2010)
Distinguished Film Producer in Residence
Director, Center for Environmental Filmmaking environmentalfilm.org
American University School of Communication
firstname.lastname@example.org; 202-885-3408; cell 202-716-6160 ChrisPalmerOnline.com
President, MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation
Center Report 2017