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Tales from Planet Earth is an eco-themed film festival
Green screenings
<i>If a Tree Falls</i>
If a Tree Falls

The Lorax may be a Hollywood ecology hit, but Madison is doing its own part with a weeklong environmental film festival starting Sunday, March 25. The event, named Tales from Planet Earth, will present more than 30 new and classic films at venues around the city.

This is the third Tales from Planet Earth festival since 2007. It's organized and hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Nelson Institute Center for Culture, History and Environment.

"Our festival uses the storytelling power of films to see the environment in new, unexpected ways," says festival founder and curator Gregg Mitman, interim director of the institute.

Over the last decade, environmental film festivals have sprung up across the country, notably in Washington, D.C. One of the things that make this one different is that it's free, says Mitman. "The other thing we do a lot of is to have filmmakers bring work-in-progress films. It's an opportunity for filmmakers to get feedback on their work."

The theme is "environmental soundings," featuring films with unusual settings, such as ecological stories about workplace conditions, small-town economies, anti-terrorism and the civil rights movement.

"The environmental movement is made up of many diverse strands and has increasingly come to embrace issues of inequality, social justice and the places where people live, work and play," notes Mitman.

Among festival highlights, six visiting filmmakers will discuss their work and participate in related events. They include Ian Cheney (The City Dark), Judith Helfand (Cooked), Shalini Kantayya (Solarize This), Rachel Libert (Semper Fi: Always Faithful), Sasha Reuther (Brothers on the Line) and Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer).

Other films include Academy Award nominee If a Tree Falls, which chronicles the anti-terrorism prosecution of a young eco-saboteur; and Mushrooms of Concrete, which examines the social and environmental impact of Albania's 750,000 Cold War-era bunkers.

Green jobs advocate Van Jones, president and cofounder of the economic reform group Rebuild the Dream, will deliver the festival's keynote address at the Barrymore Theatre (Monday, March 26, 7:30 p.m.). Named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2009, Jones argues that clean energy can create high-quality jobs and address environmental and social challenges, including unemployment.

Venues include the Barrymore, Centro Hispano, Monona Terrace, Union South and UW Cinematheque's Vilas Hall facility. A special lineup of children's programming is scheduled for Sunday, March 25, at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

For more information, visit

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