PRESSING PLAY ON ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE THROUGH STORYTELLING
How do you connect a community and start conversations around urgent environmental problems? The Cause Collaborative helped build the Fast Forward Film Festival from the ground up to do just that, inspiring purposeful artistic expression and building a network of resources for local filmmakers that grew each year.
In 2014, we were approached by the Lost Bird Project with the idea of a project that would highlight film in Rochester in a new way. With a passion for community storytelling and a blank slate before us, we pitched the concept to create an even playing field for all ages. A short film festival was born set out to raise awareness about environmental problems. We set off to create a storytelling challenge culminating in a never-before-seen event experience.
With everything from film parameters and submission criteria to venue and event planning to think through, we began by dissecting our objective — to engage the community around environmental conversations, encourage creative storytelling among adults and youth, and promote change through new perspectives. We landed on a five-minute platform to create an even playing field for aspiring and seasoned filmmakers, and opened up submissions to individuals and groups, adults and youth under-18, that live in Rochester. And most importantly, films must be about environmental issues of importance.
From there, we created the story behind the event, now deemed Fast Forward Film Festival, drawing inspiration from the button on VCRs of old and the idea of looking ahead to the future we want to see. Across two nights — a screening at The Little Theatre, and a festival gala event at the George Eastman House — we would show short films in pursuit of environmental action and task a nationally acclaimed panel of judges to award the winners. The panel would rotate each year and include a film critic, a film expert, and a content expert from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Launched during Earth Week 2015, the inaugural Fast Forward Film Festival transformed the George Eastman House into a lush oasis fit for a green carpet event — with green decor, ice sculptures, upcycled cardboard art pieces, and educational exhibits, all using local Rochester resources. Gala attendees learned about solar energy, climate change, and other environmental concepts during a cocktail hour before the film screening, and the awards ceremony allowed recipients to share their stories while accepting cash awards.
continuing the collaboration
In order for the Fast Forward Film Festival to keep going, The Cause Collaborative recommended and instituted an advisory council — The Fast Forward Rochester Community Advisory Council (CAC) — which was comprised of over a dozen members across fields. We also wrote an application for and secured a grant in 2016 from the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at RIT for coming up with something the festival and our community needed: The Green Story Guide. The guide helped bridge the gap between the festival and inner city youth, an audience we were struggling to get film submissions from during the festival’s inaugural year. It served as a fun, interactive, educational resource for students, teachers, and youth groups to learn about the environment and filmmaking — and it worked, increasing youth submissions by 30% and creating connections with educators.
Fundraising was also imperative to continue the film festival. The Cause Collaborative came up with a donor appeal and sponsorship strategy to raise funds and support festival operations. We launched a direct mail campaign targeting corporate groups and individuals in the environmental sector to boost awareness and drive donations, kickstarted a huge social media effort, sent out eNewsletters, and set up a merch store through local screen printing and apparel shop, CrazyDog T-Shirts, who donated T-shirts to benefit the festival. The initiative also included giving presentations, hosting community events at the Rochester Brainery, participating in ROC the Day, and forming “Friends of the Festival,” a network of over 30 like-minded organizations that offer their support and help promote the film festival at no charge.
Over a few short years, the Fast Forward Film Festival grew to support thousands of patrons and have tremendous reach through community partnerships. At the 2018 festival, we were able to give away $10,000 to winning filmmakers, awards that truly made an impact by helping connect youth with educational opportunities and allow all winners to pursue their passions.
By providing a platform for local perspectives to be shared, a diverse community of environmentally minded change makers within Rochester was formed. And by fostering connections, promoting available resources, and actively encouraging underserved youth to tell their story, greater community engagement around environmental concerns became a reality in Rochester.