Catching the tail of BALLE

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Gazelle Emami checks out Berkeley's film-oriented BALLE Conference ....

The purpose of educational films—bear with me—are to inform the public. But here’s where they bump into their biggest obstacle. Unless Al Gore is at the helm, they’re probably not going to get wide viewing beyond festivals that are specifically geared toward showing films of their kind. Enter the first ever Business Alliance for Local Living Economies’ (BALLE) Conference Film Festival, a two-day event that was held this past Tuesday and Wednesday at UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Auditorium. The festival’s goal was to build positive sentiment for the BALLE Conference this weekend, kind of like a pep rally for the big game. BALLE, which represents 47 local networks and more than 15,000 small businesses and community organizations, holds an annual conference gathering the preeminent leaders in green industries to discuss pressing issues facing the economy.

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Still from Manufactured Landscapes, a film the opened the conference

According to festival organizer Lisa Katovich, she knew they would be preaching to the choir for the most part. Therefore, Katovich and others tailored the festival’s content to approach the subject matter from a difference angle. So it didn’t really matter that only about 30 people were scattered around an auditorium that can hold roughly 700. By the end, at least all 30 left the room a little more enlightened, as opposed to the hundreds that left Spiderman 3 disappointed, if not a little dumber.

I caught the tail-end of the festival on Wednesday night. In the closing film, The Forest For the Trees, director Bernadine Mellis follows her father, legendary civil rights lawyer Dennis Cunningham, as he takes on his latest big case, Judi Bari vs. the FBI. To put it much more simply than it deserves, Bari was an activist trying to save some redwood trees and ended up tangled in a situation where she was accused by the FBI of being a terrorist. What makes the film so involving is its earnest, unassuming approach. Instead of shoving propaganda down your throat, its objective is simple— to clear the now deceased Bari’s name and make it known that she was, a.) not a terrorist, and b.) actually better than your average person.

The spirit of the festival is perhaps best represented by the opening lines of the film, in which Cunningham tries to articulate the justice system in the U.S.

“The way our system works,” Cunningham said, breaking off for a moment to think, then regrouping.

“Our system doesn’t work, it’s shit.”

Word.

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