WASHINGTON – The Anacostia River has been a pollution headache for suburban Maryland for years, but the silver lining in efforts to restore the waterway will jump to the silver screen in Washington this week.
“The Anacostia – Restoring the People’s River” is a film that explores the river’s history and shows how the polluted body “has recently emerged from a long period of environmental degradation.”
The public will have two chances to see the film for free at the 2006 Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, an event featuring 100 films at numerous venues in Washington and the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring from March 16 to March 26.
“The Anacostia . . .” resonates with Maryland and Washington residents who live or work near the river and have a personal stake in the documentary’s theme, film and festival officials said.
“It’s very striking to have films about things you know about and things that are in your own neighborhood,” said Flo Stone, the founder and artistic director of the Environmental Film Festival.
The film was produced by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Todd Clark of ONANON Productions in Washington and sponsored by the Anacostia Watershed Society in Bladensburg. It was completed in mid-2005, but filmmakers added footage of Prince George’s County Councilman David Harrington and original music last fall.
“The Anacostia . . .” shows how a swimable river became polluted by trash and sewage from storm water runoff and overflow. Examples of footage include residents of Anacostia neighborhoods sharing stories about the river area and appearances by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, and Washington policymakers.
This year marks the 14th annual Environmental Film Festival in Washington. Films will be shown in and around the District at museums, embassies and cinemas.
Anacostia Watershed Society members hope the film’s showing will educate residents and compel them to assist beautification efforts, said Robin Wiles-Skeels, communications manager for the society.
“People seeing it here (in Washington) can really identify with the topic,” she said.
Development on the Anacostia River is a relevant issue today as parking lots and shopping malls crop up in suburban Maryland and the Washington Nationals’ stadium is built. Concerns about tailgate trash and sewage systems underground should be just as important as how the stadium’s above-ground features look, filmmaker Clark said.
“We know about the roof line, but what’s in the basement?” he said.
The film’s power is in its visual elements, said Nancy Stoner, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Clean Water Project. The public can see healthy green spaces juxtaposed with the dirty truth in the water.
“It’s hard to describe, verbally, the contrast on the river,” she said, noting the film lets you “visualize what a revived river can do for the city.”
Groups such as the American Watershed Society, Casey Trees, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Anacostia Riverkeeper should receive credit, because they’ve spurred public interest in river restoration and offered valuable education, she said.
The film will be shown at noon Friday at the National Museum of Natural History and at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 25, at the Anacostia Museum & Center for African American History and Culture.
Issues such as river pollution and human activity can spark controversy over public policy, but the festival will not seek to politicize people, Stone said.
“We’re trying to engage their interest,” she said. “The fact is that the environment is the furthest thing from a special interest. We all have to pay attention to it.”