In 2014, Berit Madsden released a documentary that followed an Iranian woman named Sepideh Hooshyar for five years, as she pursued her dream of becoming an astronomer, refusing to conform to her societal role. In pursuing astronomy, Hooshyar wrote but never sent letters to Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist and the first Iranian woman to visit space. While making the movie “Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars,” Madsden and his team caught on camera a heart-wrenching moment in which Hooshyar receives a phone call from her idol Ansari.

Moments like this spurred Eric Desatnik FES ’10 to found the Environmental Film Festival at Yale, or EEFY.

The film festival, which runs from April 4 to 7, kicked off at Kroon Hall on Wednesday evening with an opening night gala featuring speeches by Desatnik, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Ingrid Burke and founder of the DC Environmental Film Festival Flo Stone. The speeches touched on the importance of film and the ways documentary filmmaking can transform how people feel about controversial topics, such as environmental degradation. This year’s festival marks the 10th anniversary of its establishment.

At the gala, Kroon Hall was packed with students, professors and environmental enthusiasts who milled around in tuxedos and gowns. Tables were lined with white cloth and decorated with pinecones wrapped in white lights.

Emma Crow-Willard FES ’18, director of the film festival, said she particularly looked forward to the gala.

“It’s 10 years,” Crow-Willard said. “It’s a way to celebrate the festival. It’s fun to make it more Hollywood-y by having a fancy event.”

She added that EFFY is able to communicate its environmentalist sentiment to both members of the Yale community and many New Haven residents.

In his speech, Desatnik emphasized the impact that ordinary filmmakers and scientists can have on environmental change.

“What makes EFFY even more important today than when it was started 10 years ago is that even in the past 10 years, the notion of who can solve the grand challenges in the world has fundamentally shifted,” he said. “Today, it’s you and it’s me and it’s anybody.”

EFFY is completely student-run, organized this year by graduate students in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Burke said that the festival bolsters the school’s communication to the public about environmental studies.

“Part of our strategic plan for this school includes creating a new initiative in environmental communications, and we consider a film festival, which is completely student-run … to be a centerpiece of our environmental communications initiative,” Burke said in her address.

The festival’s opening film, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” was directed by Jon Shenk ’91. As the title implies, the film is a sequel to the award-winning “An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, which followed former Vice President Al Gore on his campaign to educate American citizens about the dangers of climate change. In his sequel, Shenk emphasized the importance of Gore’s environmental activism.

“In ‘An Inconvenient Sequel,’ Bonni Cohen, my wife and co-director, and I feel privileged to have highlighted the present-day tireless work of a man who’s made it his life’s mission to spread the truth of the causes and nature of climate change,” Shenk said.

The festival will present the film “Containment” by Peter Galison and Robb Moss on Thursday, as well as three other short films. On Friday, Brian Malone’s 2017 documentary “Beyond Standing Rock” will feature along with a multitude of student films in the festival’s student film showcase. The final screenings on Saturday will include an advanced showing of an episode from the National Geographic Show and the film “WASTED! The story of food waste.” Each film will be followed by a panel discussion, with participants ranging from an expert in Japanese history to a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux tribe.

Crow-Willard said that each day of the festival is centered on a particular theme. The festival, she said, explores themes that span from environmental policy to futuristic, philosophical concepts.

The festival will conclude on Saturday night with an awards ceremony. The awards that will be presented include best feature film, best short film, best student film and audience choice award.

Candace Thompson is the director of the student film “The Next Epoch Seed Library,” which documents the efforts of artists and activists Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco to create an urban seed bank. By collecting seeds from both native and nonnative plants in an area, Irons and Percoco hoped to make a record of the genetic diversity in the region and potentially preserve it in the face of climate change. Thompson said that she expects the films at the festival to be impressive.

“I’m very excited to be at Yale,” Thompson said. “These are all very interesting-sounding films, so I’m excited to check them out.”

Nick Tabio |