2016 brought about Fusion and Audience Awards’ first ever Project Earth Doc Challenge. Like the doc challenges we’ve hosted in the past, our participants had 120 hours to shoot, edit and produce a documentary, only this time, the mission was focused on the environmental issues which are so prevalent today. We brought in world-class jury members to narrow submissions down to the top 12, which all premiered at DOCNYC this November and will go on to show at Washington D.C.’s Environmental Film Festival March 2017 and at Audience Awards Film Festival in North Hollywood in April.
Our illustrious jury members included Maryanne Culpepper, former president of National Geographic and current executive director of the DCEFF; John Bredar, who spent 26 years as senior executive producer of National Geographic Specials; and Dennis Aig, currently interim director of Montana State University’s film and photography program. All three judges are venerated documentarians with a passion for filmmaking and the environment.
Official Jury Selected Winning Films:
Best Film from the Challenge (Doc Challenge Selection): The Bulgarian Solution
Best Film from the Challenge (Fusion Selection): The Bulgarian Solution
Honorable Mention (2nd place film): Filter Feeders
Rory Moon and Amy Zhang
Best Film in the Category of Oceans: Filter Feeders
Rory Moon and Amy Zhang
Best Film in the Category of Extinction: Pacific Salmon
Charles Johnson, Ben Jensen and Anthony Whitfield
Best Film in the Category of Climate Change: The Bulgarian Solution
Best Film in the Category of Animal Welfare: Heart of A Grizzly
Overall “Best Use of Theme” (the theme is Project Earth): The Bulgarian Solution
Best in Directing: The Bulgarian Solution
Best Cinematography: Stonefly
Best in Editing: The Bulgarian Solution
Best Score: Heart of a Grizzly
The first place 2016 PEDC film, The Bulgarian Solution, makes a dramatic proposal as a solution to climate change. Fixing his camera on Bulgaria, whose population is projected to drop by more than 2 million people in the next 35 years, filmmaker Stani Milev and his team provide visual evidence for their claim. “Roads give way to raspberry bushes,” says the narrator. “Nature returns.” Taking best in film, theme, category, directing and editing, as well as Fusion’s pick, The Bulgarian Solution is an example of the world-class product this challenge can inspire.
Taking second place was Rory Moon and Amy Zhang’s film, Filter Feeders, highlighting New York’s oyster crisis, which many of us didn’t even know existed. It follows the people attempting to restore New York Harbor and Flushing Bay’s future oyster population. As one of the subjects of the doc says, “If you’re not working on something that’s going to take longer than your own lifetime, you’re not working on something big enough.”
Alexander Finden, whose film Stonefly took home an award, talked to us in depth about the difficulties of the PEDC process. One of those filmmaker blessings which fell together effortlessly was probably one of the reasons his film won for best cinematography. Just a few minutes into the doc is a series of closeups: ice melting before our eyes. “I wanted to illustrate the beauty, and at the same time the horror, of permanent ice masses melting,” he says. It takes talent to be able to show versus tell in a timed-filmmaking challenge. Audience Awards and Fusion are proud to provide a platform from which Finden and others could practice their craft and share their passion, which is simultaneously good for our filmmakers and good for the planet.
For the inside scoop on a challenge of this nature, see what this year’s winners have to say.