Indian festival ALT EFF brings ecological sensitivity to people through films

All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALT EFF), founded in Panchgani, India, showcases documentary, art house, and docu-fiction films from across the globe.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Feb 02, 2022

In 2020, ALT EFF was conceived as a result of a volunteer driven initiative which sprung out of a chance meeting at the International Permaculture Convergence in India. All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALT EFF) is only two editions old and has so far been conducted only online. The festival was born from a strong passion for the moving image, and determination to discuss pressing environmental issues via this medium. Kunal Khanna sought to make this idea a reality and roped in co-founders, Mari Schega, Neha Sreeshta and Rudransh Mathur as well. The initiative started out as completely volunteer driven and slowly began to pick up momentum. The festival curates a list of docu-fiction, art house and documentary films which focus on global concerns emerging from human-nature conflict. The ALT EFF curator, Chakshu Sharma, and founder come together to talk to STIR about the festival.

ALT EFF co-founders Neha Sreeshta, Kunal Khanna and Rudransh Mathur| ALT EFF | STIRworld
ALT EFF co-founders Neha Sreeshta, Kunal Khanna and Rudransh Mathur Image: Courtesy of the artist

Sharma tells us about the focus of the team’s work saying, “The primary goal is to inspire and mobilise, encouraging direct action through the arts. The larger goal is to help facilitate and co-create a sustainable future locally and globally. In addition to films, we also have dialogue and workshops which help creating awareness to action. It is also to establish and provide a platform for those engaged with cinema for environmentalism.”

Sharma shares the details of how each film submission is approached and received. He says, “The judging parameters we use, as well as the jury, include multiple factors like the originality of the film, its emotional impact, its narrative, direction and production value as well as its relevance to ALT EFF. This basically looks at if the film inspires action, or if there’s solid awareness shared with actionable steps. If the films are relevant to an Indian audience that scores high, because we are an Indian festival, and if it isn’t very relevant to our context that usually scores lower. Of course, we are a global festival so it’s a balance between the two. We also seek diversity in representation and experience.”

A still from Solastalgia, a film which juxtaposes life in New York with life in Nepal | ALT EFF | STIRworld
A still from Solastalgia, a film which juxtaposes life in New York with life in Nepal Image: Courtesy of the artist

While there are hundreds of film festivals in the world, of which multiple focus on environmental concerns, ALT EFF stands out because it is birthed from a lived experience. Khanna shares with us, “I lived in Australia for 13 years before moving back to India in 2018. Even while I was studying for my Master’s in environmental studies, a big area for me was food and waste. When we moved back to India, we wanted to do something which overlapped both interests. That’s how The Odd Gum Nut was born.” The Odd Gum Nut is a permaculture farm located in Panchgani, Maharashtra, which examines and embodies values of frugal living, earth care and creative thinking. The very fact that Khanna’s lifestyle is intrinsically connected to his natural environment lends an authenticity to the way ALT EFF is developed. When one has an intimate connection with Mother Earth, positive intentions are reflected in every action - don’t you agree?

Alles hat Grenzen plays out the voice of Mother Nature | ALT EFF | STIRworld
Alles hat Grenzen plays out the voice of Mother Nature Image: Courtesy of the artist

“People just come here to ride on a horse, walk around and go back to their city lives. The typical hill station activities, you know?” says Khanna, inhabitant of the small town of Panchgani which lies nestled in the plateaus of Western India. ALT EFF, and similarly The Odd Gum Nut, is an initiative which seeks to bring a more wholesome perspective into the purview of casual tourists, developing responsible tourism in India.

When asking Khanna about his interest in the medium of film itself, he says, “In the time I lived in Australia, when I was studying economics, I worked and volunteered at a lot of film and art festivals. Watching films, specifically at festivals, really changed my perspective on a lot of things in a very permanent way. This was very powerful. Films hold the power to create empathy in a very unique and engaging way, they inspire and invite you to see things from a different perspective.” As a viewer, what I find encouraging about this film festival is the grassroots approach. Living in and running an organic farm gives one a deep understanding of the urgency of reintegrating human beings with their natural environment. ALT EFF was conceptualised with a passion for this - the need of the hour.

In the 2021 run of the festival, a number of films were screened including a conceptual short film titled Alles hat Grenzen NUR DER MONDFISCH NICHT, which stayed with me. The Austrian film was directed by Sylvia Eckermann and Gerald Nestler. The 30-minute-long screenplay is an environmental musical which juxtaposes poetry with music, sounds of nature with a cappella. The film provides space for the voice of Mother Nature to be heard, using different characters to create a hybrid persona which speaks to humankind, imploring us all to seek and see the tightly woven connection between humans and nature. Other films include Solastalgia (USA), A Rifle and A Bag (India), Mar and Celio (Chile) and IFANG (Switzerland). Another exceptional film which has been shown at this festival is Wade, an animated short film made in India, concerned with declining tiger populations.

A still from A Rifle And A Bag | ALT EFF | STIRworld
A still from A Rifle and A Bag Image: Courtesy of the artist

In the upcoming 2022 edition of the festival, the ALT EFF team will curate a live festival for the first time, which will take place in Panchgani. The festival will include a lineup of films as well as workshops, art installations and other interactive events. Sharma says, “The point is to create the spirit of environmental action in three-and-a-half days with a lot of fun, education, music and film. This is planned for November 2022.”

ALT EFF has opened itself up to submissions from filmmakers for the upcoming festival. Creators may learn more about them and submit their films via Film Freeway.

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