The South African Eco Film Festival is taking place at four venues this year, in three cities and a retreat. Catch some of the finest thought-provoking short and feature-length documentaries, 12 of which have never been seen in South Africa before. All carry an environmental message.

wildthing-article Project Wild Thing, One of the films showing at the South African Eco Festival, markets nature and the outdoors to children are too obsessed with technology. (Image: SA Eco Festival)

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Ray Maota

Documentary films that both entertain and inform, carrying important environmental, social and political messages, will be screened at the South African Eco Film Festival.

The festival is a project of While You Were Sleeping, a Cape Town non-profit collective committed to bringing progressive documentary films with important social and environmental messages to South African audiences. Many excellent documentary films never make it on to the South African mainstream cinema circuit, prompting the creation of the project.

It runs from 26 March to 2 April in three cities and one rural area. In Johannesburg, you can catch it at The Bioscope in the trendy Maboneng Precinct, in Pretoria at the Asbos Teater, at Theatre Labia in Cape Town, and at Khula Dhamma Retreat Centre and Ecological Farm near East London in the Eastern Cape.

Dougie Dudgeon, publisher, music producer, documentary producer and member of While You Were Sleeping, says: "This year's festival includes a number of South African productions and we want to share these magnificent and important films with as many people as possible. We are proud to announce that this year's festival will be hosted at four intimate and independent venues: The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Johannesburg, the Asbos Teater in Pretoria, Khula Dhamma Retreat Centre and Ecological Farm near East London and, of course, the Labia Theatre in Cape Town, which remains our home base."

Tickets for the Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg screenings cost R45 and for each ticket sold, R5 will be donated to Greenpop, the tree-planting organisation also based in Cape Town.

Andreas Wilson-Späth, a geochemist, freelance journalist and co-founder of While You Were Sleeping, says: "We've branched out. After last year's enthusiastic reception of the Cape Town Eco Film Festival, we've gone nationwide, sprouting offshoots in three additional venues around the country.

"Our mission remains the same: to raise awareness about the many pressing environmental issues the planet is facing through the amazing medium of documentary film. We've put together a world-class selection of films that both entertain and educate."

MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, one of South Africa's biggest community fundraising programmes, is the festival's headline sponsor. Helène Brand, the marketing manager of the fundraising programme, says: "For the past 18 years, MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet has been working with schools and charities, helping to raise funds for education and social development. By partnering with the Eco Film Festival we aim to create additional platforms through which to encourage community engagement on crucial issues and also to inspire parents and children to become active citizens."

The Cape leg

For Cape Town and Eastern Cape audiences, the Eco Kids Film Initiative (EKFI) is an exciting new addition to the festival programme, featuring films made for – and in some cases even by – children.

Featuring a mix of documentary and narrative type films, both live-action and animated, this year the screenings will be aimed at children aged three to six, seven to 11, and 12 to 17.

Tarien Roux, the director of EKFI, explains: "In order to nurture a social culture that is responsive to the youth's environmental concerns, we need to ensure that children are aware of the relevant environmental issues and have a vehicle through which to voice their concerns in a creative and empowering manner. I believe this vehicle should be film."

Films on the programme

The programme includes more than 25 beautifully shot, thought-provoking short and feature-length documentaries, 12 of which have never been seen in South Africa before. The audience will have the opportunity to vote for their favourite film, which will receive the Silver Tree Audience Choice Award.

Project Wild Thing, by David Bond, markets nature and the outdoors to children are too obsessed with technology.

Cowspiracy, by intrepid filmmaker Kip Anderson, looks at animal farming and how it is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution. He investigates why leading environmental organisations are turning a blind eye to this issue.

Nature is Speaking looks at what nature would say to humans if it could talk and features an all-star Hollywood line-up, with Julia Roberts as Mother Nature, Edward Norton as the soil, Penelope Cruz as water, Kevin Spacey as the rainforest and many more.

Abalimi is an inspiring story of Xhosa women in the townships of Cape Town who micro-farm to fight extreme poverty, gain health and create food security for themselves, their families and the wider community.