For more than 20 years, the Environmental Film Festival has played a critical role in bringing together filmmakers, policymakers, scientists, educators, and citizens committed to the future of our planet. The 25th Annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital took place March 14-26, 2017. DCEFF is the world’s premier showcase of environmentally themed films. Through this annual festival, year-round events, and online resources, the festival advances public understanding of the environment through the power of film.
This screening of Smog of the Sea was co-presented with The Ocean Conservancy and hosted by NYU Washington, DC.
Marine scientist Marcus Eriksen invited renowned surfers Keith and Dan Malloy, musician Jack Johnson, spearfisher Kimi Werner, and bodysurfer Mark Cunningham to join him on a one-week journey through the Sargasso Sea to assess the fate of plastics in the world’s oceans. After years of hearing about ocean “garbage patches,” the crew is stunned to learn they are actually a “fog” of microplastics—trillions of barely visible shards—permeating the world’s oceans. How do you stop a fog? Using nostalgic super8 footage, sparkling underwater cinematography, an original score by Jack Johnson and shipmate Simon Beins, and live-action footage of the crew’s research, Ian Cheney’s The Smog of the Sea provides a new perspective on marine pollution, and makes an artful call to action for rethinking the scourge of the sea—single-use plastic.
28 min., 2016, USA, dir. Ian Cheney
Ian grew up in Massachusetts and Maine, and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University.
After graduate school, Ian directed the short documentary TWO BUCKETS, about a reclusive loner living in the woods of mid-coast Maine. TWO BUCKETS won a WGBH-Boston “6:55” grant and was broadcast on WGBH-Boston in 2006.
From 2003-2006, Ianco-created, co-produced and starred in the feature documentary KING CORN, about the role of corn in America’s epidemics of obesity and type-II diabetes. Premiering on PBS’ Independent Lens in 2008, KING CORN was released theatrically in 60 cities, awarded a George Foster Peabody Award in 2009, and followed by a short sequel entitled BIG RIVER.
Ian subsequently directed the feature documentary THE GREENING OF SOUTHIE, about the men and women who built Boston’s first residential green building. SOUTHIE aired as the 2008 Earth Day broadcast on The Sundance Channel, was released theatrically in a dozen cities, and was subsequently featured in The New Yorker and on Good Morning America.
Ian‘s film TRUCK FARM explored urban agriculture through the story of an old pickup truck with a garden growing in its bed. TRUCK FARM screened in over 150 communities, won numerous film festival awards, and inspired a nationwide school garden contest and a fleet of 20+ mobile gardens in cities around the country. The film was broadcast on PBS in 2012.
Ian was also a contributing cinematographer on the Oscar-short-listed documentary UNDER OUR SKIN, and was the outreach producer for Kaiulani Lee’s film about pioneering environmentalist Rachel Carson, A SENSE OF WONDER. In 2011, Ian and longtime collaborator Curt Ellis were given the prestigious Heinz Award for their work in environmental advocacy.
Ian’s film THE CITY DARK is a feature documentary about light pollution and the disappearing night, which premiered in competition at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, 2011, and theatrically at New York’s IFC Centerin January 2012. A New York Times Critics’ Pick, the film aired nationwide on PBS' POV and was nominated for a 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Science & Technology Documentary.
Ian's production THE SEARCH FOR GENERAL TSO, a collaboration with author Jennifer 8 Lee, was awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New York State Council of the Arts, and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2014 before being released theatrically by IFC Films / Sundance Selects in 2015.
Ian is also a co-founder of FoodCorps, an Americorps farm-to-school program aimed at improving school nutrition. He has served on film festival juries and panels including South by Southwest, the Wisconsin Film Festival, and the Camden International Film Festival. Since 2011 he has been a visiting professor at the Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche in Italy. Ian travels frequently to show his films, lead workshops, and give talks about sustainability, astronomy, and the human relationship to the natural world.
From 2014-2015 Ian was a Knight fellow at MIT. His most recent film, BLUESPACE, explores the terraforming of Mars and the waterways of New York City. It will premiere in fall of 2015. With his wife Amanda Murray, Ian lives in western Massachusetts.
Adena Leibman serves as the Ocean and Natural Resources Counsel for U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). Senator Whitehouse is Co-Chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, a bipartisan group of 31 Senators focused on ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes issues, including marine debris. Her previous positions include a Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship, clerkships with the U.S. Department of Justice and Bonneville Power Administration, and positions with ocean conservation NGOs. Adena has a B.S. and M.S. in marine science from the University of South Carolina and a J.D. with a concentration in environment and natural resources law from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, OR.
Allison Schutes serves as a senior manager for the Trash Free Seas Program at Ocean Conservancy where she oversees the annual International Coastal Cleanup, the world’s largest, single-day volunteer effort on behalf of the ocean. In this role, she helps to coordinate and mobilize a diverse global network of local charities and environmental advocacy groups who volunteer their time and data on marine debris to Ocean Conservancy. This data feeds into the Ocean Trash Index, an item-by item, location-by-location database of the most persistent forms of trash littering our beaches and ocean. Allison also plays a key role in the management of other stakeholder relationships for the Trash Free Seas Program.