Nicholas School to present award at Full Frame

Building on the established Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts Award, the Nicholas School continues to promote art as a means of communicating environmental themes to the public.

The Nicholas School of the Environment Film Award will be presented at the annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in April, which is organized by the Center for Documentary Studies. The winning film will be selected from more than 100 documentaries shown during the four-day festival in downtown Durham.

The chosen filmmaker will receive a $5,000 prize, funded by anonymous donations, as well as greater exposure within the documentary film community. Nicholas School Dean Bill Chameides said the criteria for the award go beyond the traditional concept of an environmental film.

“Any kind of environmental film could potentially look for the award, but we’re trying to cast our net as broadly and as widely as possible to catch some of those other films that would not necessarily immediately jump up at you as an environmental documentary,” Chameides said.

The prize will be awarded by a jury of four or five people. The members of the selection jury are still being finalized, but it will most likely consist of two people from Duke, several from outside of the University community and Chameides as a tie-breaker in the case of an evenly split vote.

The jury will choose the documentary that best portrays “the challenges we face in reconciling the human drive to improve living standards and the imperative to preserve the natural environments that sustain us and the cultural heritages that define us,” Chameides stated in a Duke news release Feb. 23.

Tom Rankin, the director of the Center for Documentary Studies, said environmental documentaries play a unique role at the festival.

“These kinds of films really do take an audience at a film festival and take them places where they wouldn’t go,” he said. “[They] complicate the issue of armchair environmental thinking and then move people from that place to hopefully doing something about it.”

David Gatten, visiting associate professor for the Program in Arts of the Moving Image, said the new award will have “a tremendous impact” for the environmental film community.

“For the filmmakers who win this award, everyone knows the Full Frame Festival, and everyone in the world of environmental studies knows about the Nicholas School,” Gatten said. “So it’s a wonderful thing for a filmmaker to be able to say, ‘My work was supported by these two entities.’”

Gatten, an independent filmmaker who has made two films related to the environment, predicted that the award will draw more film submissions. He added that the monetary prize can greatly assist in paying for distribution of the film and jump starting new projects.

Chameides said the new award forms part of the ongoing Duke Art and the Environment Initiative, which encourages communication of environmental themes through the arts. He noted that discussion of environmental issues, especially among scientists and policymakers, can become “extremely intellectual,” but that the arts can play a vital role in advancing that discussion.

“When people say they care about the environment, I don’t think it’s coming from an intellectual place,” Chameides said. “I think it’s coming from a really gut level connection with the natural world that probably we’re born with. To be more effective in teaching people about the environment and caring for the environment... we need to connect people to the environment in a visceral kind of way, and that’s what artists do.”


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