For 12 years, Judith Selby and Richard Lang have collected plastic trash along a one-kilometer stretch of beach near their home in northern California. At a rate of 35 pounds per hour, it isn’t surprising that they have accumulated tons of debris. What may be surprising is the art they produce with it—sculptures and abstract prints reminiscent of Paul Klee and Henri Matisse that feature 1949-vintage toys, Korean lighters, Astroturf (a common find), bubble blowers and hair curlers that may have last adorned a human head thirty or forty years ago. The artwork has exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and now, the Langs can add Mountainfilm’s 2011 filmmaker awards to their resume. Let’s hope that those pieces never find their way back to the sea, where they would join an estimated 46,000 visible pieces of plastic that float in every square mile of Earth’s oceans.
The Goldman Environmental Prize is perhaps the most important—and generous—environmental tribute of its kind with an annual financial award that goes to grassroots environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continents. My Toxic Reality is about one of the winners, Hilton Kelly, who saw a need for someone to take a stand in his community of Port Arthur, Texas, a place where eight petrochemical refining facilities lord over that town’s residential areas. Hoping to reverse the severe economic and environmental decline of his hometown, and reduce the alarming incidence of respiratory and cancer-related illness, Kelly spent years learning all he could about policies governing industrial pollution. Then he galvanized his community to take action—to clean up historical damage and degradation and protect against future threats.
These days a river that flows freely from its headwaters to the sea is a rare creature. Of the few that do remain unchained, many are threatened by development or damming. Power in the Pristine, a short film created by Rios Libres, a group of adventurers who include professional climber and longtime Mountainfilm guest Timmy O’Neill and writer Craig Childs, is a portrait of one such river: the Baker in Chilean Patagonia. A wild river that begins as a turquoise trickle in sculpted glacial fields high in the mountains, the Baker empties into the Pacific Ocean as a formidable waterway. The river is also the site of a proposed major hydro-electric dam, one that would forever alter its geography, form and ecosystem. In this film O’Neill, Childs and others from the Colorado Plateau—who are all too familiar with the Glen Canyon Dam and the chained Colorado River—set out to explore and understand a river that still flows wild and free. As they travel from the Baker’s high and cold origins, through its rushing gorges to its end in the Pacific, the group begins to comprehend the value of a river as nature intended.