USC Cinematic Arts presents its inaugural Eco Film & Media Arts Festival

Filmmakers and USC student directors will join together Friday evening to bring awareness to the climate crisis through short films.

Students gather between classes at the School of Cinematic Arts at USC.

The USC film community will come together Friday night to combat the climate crisis through visual storytelling. Aimed at demonstrating the need for sustainability, the Eco Film & Media Arts Festival is set to showcase student-directed short films at the School of Cinematic Arts.

In addition to screening 11 short films, the festival will feature a panel of filmmakers that include Courtnee Zambrano, a screenwriter and producer, Jay Ponti, a grassroots political organizer, and Anna Jane Joyner, a climate story consultant. Natasha Nutkiewicz, a senior theater major, will moderate the event.

Nutkiewicz is an actress, producer, and filmmaker, who will also present her short film “Our Garden,” at the festival. The film, which portrays a young couple fighting against oil drilling in their L.A. neighborhood, goes beyond the actions of the activist and delves into their mentalities, she said.

“[”Our Garden”] explores a lot of things about eco-grief, eco-anxiety—but also sometimes interpersonal conflicts that we may have even though we are fighting for the same thing,” Nutkiewicz said.

As the brains behind the festival, Nutkiewicz helped select several other films and documentaries produced by USC students to feature.

“I put out calls for filmmakers, people submitted their films, which are so exciting. They’re great,” Nutkiewicz, who is also a cinematic arts minor, said. “They’re documentaries, and they are fiction films, and they’re experimental, and they’re industrial promotional videos. There’s all sorts of media arts.”

Each storyline is different, but all of the films work to share the same message, according to the festival’s prompt: ‘we must act now.’ Many of the film directors found the motivation to share this message through film because of their personal experiences, they said.

Arian Tomar, whose film “Canaries of the Coast’' will be shared at the festival, explained his time in Peddar Bay near British Columbia inspired him to direct his creative attention towards sustainability.

“I was able to see firsthand the impact on salmon, the impact on orca whales, on the other marine mammals as well, in addition to the orcas,” Tomar, a freshman cinematic arts major, said. “I was just so moved by being so close to the issue that I just had to make a film about it.”

William Higbie, a senior film and television production major, shared similar sentiments when discussing motivations to create his documentary “Divest SC,” which covers a student-run group’s push to get USC to divest $277 million from fossil fuel funding.

“[S]ustainability and sustainability policy and how we can implement it through different institutions has always been an additional passion of mine,” Higbie said. “I had the chance to sort of both use my filmmaking abilities and my passion for sustainability.”

Each film reflects each creator’s unique twist on a specific environmental issue, and the festival gives them a platform to spread awareness.

“I hope the audience is reminded of wherever they feel home is. I hope they realize that there are environmental issues going on that they’re not aware of,” Tomar said. “I hope my film inspires people that kind of do their own research to see how the place that they love the most are being impacted and to think about how they can make a difference there.”

Nutkiewicz said that she hopes non-filmmaker audiences will also be able to take away just how impactful the climate crisis is on everyone’s lives.

“Even if you’re not a filmmaker or an artist, even if you’re just, you know, a lawyer or a doctor, we can all use our gifts towards this movement because, again, this is an existential crisis,” Nutkiewicz said. “It will affect everyone. So we need to start shifting all our activities, all our professional endeavors, all our passions or all our hobbies towards this.”

The Eco Film & Media Arts Festival will take place in SCI Room 106 at 7 p.m. Friday. Ticket information is available on Eventbrite.