An honor and a privilege

This month, at the invitation of former President Leonel Fernandez, Princeton Environmental Film Festival Director Susan Conlon and I  participated in the Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival (DREFF). We were part of a panel discussion called “Environmental Film: An Effective Tool for Eco Education” that included key players from environmental film festivals around the world. The festival is an initiative of the former president’s organization, Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD).

It was an extraordinary experience. Initially we were simply delighted and honored to have the opportunity to experience this festival, compliments of GFDD; I don’t think either of us could have imagined the impact this experience would have on us or how many new friends we would make.

All guests of the festival were housed in the same location, so we had the opportunity to meet with producers, directors, documentarians, scientists and others who are deeply involved in both development and environmental concerns within the Dominican. Each connection, whether in a formal meeting or more informally, seemed to spark new ideas, ways of thinking and seeing the world.

It was amazing to see all the ways in which the DREFF involved the community and their focus on children as change agents of the future. One event that was particularly innovative was called, “Terra.” “Terra is an interactive film about the environment, presented in a platform through which the audience mixes in with the content by responding to a section of questions that are related to the topic.”* This practical description can not begin to describe the excitement generated by a 3D cinema filled with students from four different schools screaming and cheering as they saw their photographs projected onto the big screen and as they answered correctly. This combination of film, facts and gaming really reached out to kids in a way that film alone often does not. The group of girls screaming behind me may have permanently damaged my hearing, but it was worth it for how much it engaged the audience.

DREFF and GFDD do a lot of extraordinary work in the Dominican Republic. DREFF is now in its third year. Not only do they provide access to amazing documentaries, they have started a number of remarkably successful initiatives.

One of the first things that members of GFDD did was to create the Dominican Republic Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Environment in “an effort to increase understanding of the dangers of environmental contamination, while promoting respect, care and concern for the natural environment and its protection and sustainable use.” **

One of their initiatives closest to my heart was their School and Community Gardens – Eco Huertos. GFDD found a phenomenal ethno-botanist who they worked with to develop a school and community gardens program. Similar to the fabulous initiative we have here in Princeton, Eco Huertos has been fully integrated into the classrooms and has been very successful.

Is it OK to say that two initiatives are close to my he(art)? The ReCrearte Program: “The ReCrearte Program aims to raise awareness of the 3Rs of solid waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle. The workshops also emphasize and demonstrate how recycling waste into art can empower individuals and communities alike.”**  Artist in residence Bertha Santana was hired by GFDD to run workshops throughout communities and schools. Her exuberance and creativity have fostered some truly incredible results.

It was interesting and inspiring to see how our friends all over the world are working, each in their own way to make the world a better place, and it was a gift to make pathways into doing this together.

*DREFF 2013 Festival Guide

**GFDD website

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