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The Athena Cinema on Court Street in Athens, Ohio.

Athena Cinema hosts Sustainability Film Series virtually

The eighth annual Athena Cinema Sustainability Film Series is being held virtually this year. Hosted by the Athena Cinema, University Libraries and the Environmental Studies Program, this year’s film series incorporates racial and social justice into their key theme of sustainability.

Sam Crowl, associate director of sustainability at Ohio University, said sustainability is “a decision-making framework that focuses on finding solutions that simultaneously benefit people, the planet and economic prosperity now and in the future.” 

Programs such as OU’s Climate & Sustainability Ambassadors or departments such as the Office of Sustainability, a financial partner to the Sustainability Film Series, help further this movement even more extensively on-campus.

“The Sustainability Film Series and Athena Cinema are local treasures that help to educate our campus and local community about topics important to the health of people, the planet and the economy, from beekeeping to pollution to bicycling and so much more,” Crowl said in an email. “For many locals, the Film Series has been the only way they hear about these topics in detail.”

The films included in the series each year are picked very carefully by environmental studies instructor Loraine McCosker and subject librarian for the performing arts Lorraine Wochna. McCosker explained that this decision making process functions with diversity and inclusivity at the forefront.

“We try to make (the films) have a global emphasis. We do not focus on the U.S.,” McCosker said, mentioning how the final installment in this year’s series, Taking Root, tells the story of Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. “We’re very conscious about gender balance in our films, and racial and ethnic balance … And then we also look for challenges and solutions in the films. We don’t want all our films to be pointing out the bad parts about things without some solutions for people.”

This year’s new themes of racial and social justice were selected by McCosker and Wochna because they felt those issues were especially illuminated over the summer. Overall, audience numbers and engagement at the previous four-film showings have gone really well regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think right before the lockdown we probably had 200 people jammed into that theater, right before everything closed, so we’re virtual and will be virtual in the spring,” McCosker explained, mentioning that while audience members may no longer be at 200, they remain high and promising. “It’s just been a new way of doing it. There’s nothing like being together, and we usually have a lot of events in the lobby, and sometimes it’s just totally packed, so we obviously can’t do that. But I think we’re providing a really important component of education at OU right now.”

Wochna, who works alongside McCosker in running the film series, explained that one of the most engaging aspects of the series is the panels, which run via Zoom at the end of each film and allow the audience to interact with the speakers. While Wochna said there is sometimes difficulty in frequently finding diverse speakers who are also experts on sustainability-related issues, she aims to provide multiple perspectives every time. For this week’s film, We Are The Radical Monarchs, the panel will include climate ambassadors for OU and even an elementary school-aged girl. 

“I am optimistic about The Radical Monarchs,” Wochna said. “It’s a film about these two women in California who wanted young black and brown girls to have a Girl Scout-type experience, but they felt like they didn’t find representation of themselves in Girl Scouts… So they’re called the ‘Radical Monarchs,’ and their thing is not so much ‘Oh, we’re going to get badges because we made a fire,’ it’s ‘We’re going to get a badge because we cleaned up the river. We’re going to get a badge because we protested for Black Lives Matter.’ I think it’s awesome, and the film is very much about empowering young people.”

The final film, Taking Root, will become available on the website Nov. 16.


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