From climate change to plastic pollution to endangered wildlife, there is no shortage of environmental issues being addressed by today’s filmmakers. Watching dozens of these films in order to curate CFI Education’s Environmental Youth Forum (EYF) can sometimes feel like a depressing and daunting task. But EYF chooses not to focus on the doom and gloom—it is all about inspiration and engagement. The films we screen and the stories we share are selected for their focus on innovations, solutions, and sources of hope and change. Paired with in-depth discussions and some really cool interactive exhibits, EYF strives for all students to leave the theater both inspired and empowered.

The Environmental Youth Forum, now in its 10th year, thanks to the support of Nancy and Rich Robbins, brings thousands of students from schools throughout the region to the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center for three days of rich content, inviting them to engage with environmental awareness and activism. The 2018 Forum, held May 2 – 4, 2018, attracted over 2,000 students from 18 schools from Cloverdale to San Francisco, to watch films, interact with exhibits, and discuss ideas.

Perhaps one of the best things about EYF is how many of those students are the ones providing the inspiration. Powerful examples of youth environmental activism permeated the program, from 14-year-old filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze’s Kids Can Save the Planet short film series to the youth activists featured in the film Youth V Gov to 12-year-old Unai and his family visiting EYF from Spain, featured in the film Looking for the Wild (Unai’s Journey).

That same energy and activism was evident within the student audiences, young people from around the Bay Area demonstrating their commitment to saving and protecting the planet, including groups like the Environmental Club at San Francisco’s Rush Asawa School of the Arts and New Voices Are Rising from Oakland. The enthusiasm and efficacy of these young people made them tangible role models for their peers—and inspired all of us to continue to fight the good fight.

This year’s Forum presented 33 films, with something for each age group from elementary school through high school. Middle school and high school audience members were treated to a special work-in-progress presentation of the film Youth V Gov with director Christi Cooper and youth activists Aji Piper and Kelsey Juliana, two of the youth plaintiffs featured in the film, about their groundbreaking lawsuit pitting 21 young people against the U.S. government in their fight to secure their legal right to a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate. They were joined for a Q&A by local youth activists Rosesanie Phan and Jada Delaney from New Voices Are Rising, who spoke about their efforts to prevent coal from being transported through the city of Oakland. Director Christi Cooper told us that Environmental Youth Forum “really brings it home to this community some of the work that needs to be done and how the kids can get locally engaged.”

Students participated in a number of environmentally-focused activities and hands-on demonstrations in the EYF Active Cinema Room, featuring interactive exhibits and representatives from groups such as All One Ocean, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and California Coastal Commission; environmentally-conscious games provided by Conscious Carnival; science-based experiments and exhibits provided by Mobile Climate Science Labs; honey tasting and live bees from Urban Bee SF; animal exhibits from Wildcare; and two virtual reality exhibits:  Sanctuaries of Silence, an immersive listening journey into Olympic National Park, and Anote’s Ark, a 360-degree exploration of sea-level rise on the island nation of Kiribati.

Teachers and students give rave reviews of their experience at EYF. As one middle school teacher said: “They loved the interactive activities as much as the documentaries.” With such positive word of mouth, the Forum keeps growing. What started as a one-day event now spans three full days We hope that many of these students continue to be inspired by their participation to stand up and take action. 

Photos © Tommy Lau Photography