March 4, 2010

Two festivals showcasing green films


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shows Paul Tukey of Cumberland speaking to a crowd in DC about lawn chemical in a scene from A Chemical Reaction. Tukey, former publisher of People, Places and Plants and author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual, produced the film about an anti lawn chemical movement that began in a small town in Quebec.

Staff Writer

This will be a big weekend for environmental films in Maine.

Documentaries and short films about everything from industrial pollution in the Amazon to the struggle of fishing families on the coast of Maine will be shown at festivals in Portland and Camden during the next several days.

There are some Maine-made films, too, including a Portland filmmaker's documentary about the ongoing small-town rebellion against lawn chemicals.

The fifth annual Camden International Film Festival starts today and ends Sunday, and will feature 55 films on a variety of subjects. The selections include green films, some of which are being clustered as fodder for a discussion on alternative energy Sunday afternoon.

The second annual Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival is scheduled Saturday at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. The four-hour event is sponsored by the Friends of Casco Bay and will feature 10 films, with an emphasis on entertainment as well as environmental messages.

The large number of selections is a clear sign that independent environmental films are coming of age in the post-''Inconvenient Truth'' era.

''We had a hard time narrowing them down,'' said Will Everitt of the Friends of Casco Bay. The group's staff considered 90 films and watched about 25 before choosing 10 for the fundraising event, he said.

Last year, some of the choices were amateurish, with crude sound or lighting, he said.

''The selections that we saw this year were not like that at all,'' Everitt said. ''A lot of younger filmmakers are getting more sophisticated.''

One of those filmmakers is 34-year-old Brett Plymale of Portland, whose film ''A Chemical Reaction'' will be shown in Camden on Saturday, its Maine premiere. Plymale showed a preview last spring at the Portland Flower Show but said the final cut is much different.

The 80-minute film tells the story of a dermatologist in Hudson, Quebec, who in the 1980s began testing her patients' blood for the presence of weed killer after they appeared with unexplained rashes and, in one case, started to lose hair and fingernails.

''She spent tens of thousands of dollars of her own money,'' Plymale said. ''Literally, no one was helping her.''

Every month for six years, the doctor, June Irwin, pleaded to the town council to ban the lawn chemicals. She finally succeeded.

Legal challenges by the lawn chemical industry went to Canada's highest court in 2003, but Hudson's ban on lawn pesticides and fertilizers stood, and has since spread through Canada and into the United States.

Several Maine communities -- Brunswick, Kennebunkport, Camden and Rockport -- now limit or discourage the use of lawn chemicals that can threaten groundwater or shellfish, and more are considering action.

The movie also features Paul Tukey of Cumberland, who has become a leading activist in the U.S. Tukey ran a lawn-care company and got sick from exposure to the chemicals.

He was the film's executive producer, did many of the interviews and is shown speaking to large groups around the country about the dangers of lawn chemicals.

The movie prompted cheers and applause when it premiered in Canada, and Plymale hopes it will spread Hudson's story to more small towns in the U.S.

''That's really what I was interested in -- how did this tiny town of 5,000 people cause such a social change?'' he said. ''Ultimately, we just want the story to get out there.''

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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