Today’s HOT Chat is with Nicholas Aberle, the director of the inaugural Environmental Film Festival Melbourne being held at Kino Cinemas next week (16-19 September).

A disclaimer – Nicholas is a friend of a friend, but even if he wasn’t the festival is something I want to support – anti-bottled water, food waste and rescue, not using plastic bags, organic produce are all issues which are close to my heart. Plus I like films :–)

Nicholas, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to be the Festival Director of the Environmental Film Festival Melbourne?

My wife and I had been living in the US for a few years, and some friends of ours had been involved in organising a new environmental film festival at the local university. Films are such a powerful way of getting a message across, and I found that everyone came out of the films inspired and motivated to try to make a difference. We saw Food Inc just before coming home at the start of this year, and I started thinking about showing it to a bunch of friends back here (this was before it starting screening around Melbourne).

Then I thought “oh, and there’s that other film I should show them as well”, and then it kind of snow-balled into organising an entire film festival. We roped in a few friends with the skills that we thought we’d need, and the rest is almost history.

What can audiences expect to see at the Environmental Film Festival Melbourne?

People are going to see some amazing films. These aren’t your David-Attenborough-nature-documentary kind of thing, it’s way better than that. These films are equal parts fascinating, terrifying and entertaining.

Some of the films are very hard hitting and paint grim pictures, like Climate Refugees and Sweet Crude – there’s no sunshine and lollipops when you’re talking about millions of people being displaced by catastrophic climate change or about the decimation of an entire region and its people by years of oil extraction. This is serious stuff and the film-makers don’t hold back from telling it like it is. Nor should they.

Others are more light-hearted, like Dive! and Bag It, which have their fair share of laughs, but still discuss very important issues. For example, until I’d seen Bag It, I had no idea just how much the plastics we use everyday affect our bodies in really bad ways. And that’s the key: all these films talk about issues that people should know about.

On top of the films, we’ll be having a discussion panel each night of the festival. The idea of these panels is to give the audience a chance to ask questions about the issues that come up, and to get an idea of what we’re doing in Australia to solve some of these problems. We want people to engage with these issues, and to become part of the solution. And if there is no solution right now, then let’s start a healthy and informed debate about what type of solutions we should be looking for, and how we’re going to get there.

Image from Sweet Crude

What is your one must-see recommendation for the festival?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I have a hard enough time narrowing it down to even a few. But since you ask, I’m going to say Climate Refugees, which is our opening night film. It is probably the most powerful film I have ever seen, because it gives a human face to what is the most pressing issue currently confronting human civilisation. It shows us people whose lives are being ruined right now by climate change, and it makes the very simple but critically important point that this is only going to get worse, and affect more people, including us here in Australia, unless we actually do something about it.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Environmental Film Festival Melbourne?

I enjoy being part of something that is going to simultaneously inform and entertain, and ultimately, I hope, contribute in a positive way to debates on important issues.

Most of these films haven’t been seen in Melbourne, or Australia for that matter, and so it has been really exciting getting them all together and thinking about what people are going to be talking about as they leave the cinema after having seen them.

Image from A Sea Change

What are some of the most interesting or challenging aspects you’ve encountered running a film festival for the first time?

By far the most interesting part has been watching all the films! There were plenty of great films that we saw that we just couldn’t fit in to our schedule, so it was a tough selection process. It has been a lot of work for our committee in pulling it all together, but so many people have been so enthusiastic and willing to help out. And we’ve had such great feedback from pretty much everyone we’ve spoken to about it, so it seems that this is something that Melburnians have been waiting for.

As for some of the challenges… well, lets just say it has been a steep learning curve. Doing a google search for “how to run a film festival” early on was a good move!

Finally, what are your tips for what’s HOT in Melbourne?

The Pinnacle (251 St George’s Road, North Fitzroy +61 3 9489 3044) – it’s that perfect blend of laid-back and very cool, plus its just around the corner from my house, so that makes it even better.

CERES Saturday market – so much better than walking around under the fluorescent lights of a supermarket, plus, you don’t get many live jazz bands in Coles.

The inaugural Environmental Film Festival Melbourne will be held at Kino Cinemas from 16-19 September 2010 – see you there, I’ll be watching Tapped, Dive! and Bag It. You can also find out more about the festival by joining their Facebook page.