Richmond Environmental Film Festival brings global environmentalism to RVA

Illustration by Lindsay Hart

Vaila DeYoung, Contributing Writer

The Richmond Environmental Film Festival returned this week to celebrate and raise awareness of environmentalism. 

The festival was founded by the James River Film Society in 2008, and was later backed by the Sierra Club and revived in 2011 as the RVA Environmental Film Festival. The festival, which is free, is supported by local nonprofits and businesses.

The audience ranged from environmental enthusiasts, children, parents and students of all ages — all eager to learn something new about nature. I was one of them, and the experience taught me a lot about local and global environmentalism. 

Here are my reviews of the three films I managed to see over the weekend. 

“Singapore: Biophilic City” (2012)

Opening night was held at the Richmond Public Library, and entailed a screening of the documentary “Singapore: Biophilic City,” as well as a panel discussion with local environmental activists and public figures. 

Michael Carter, a small farm resource center coordinator from Virginia State University and member of the panel, spoke on our lack of connection with nature and said people should strive to become familiar and comfortable with the outdoors. 

“No matter where you come from — Europe, Latin America, South America, Africa, Africans in America — we are so disconnected from nature,” Carter said. 

“Singapore: Biophilic City,” documented some of the ways that Singapore is implementing the concept of biophilia, the desire to be around other forms of life such as plants and animals, into the daily lives of its people. 

The philosophy behind interweaving natural elements with urban landscapes comes from the idea that nature is innately healing and beneficial to our health, giving natural remedies to everyday stressors — which leads to happier and healthier citizens.  

The short film, which is available on YouTube, described how an urban area can quickly become a more natural and efficient place to live and work. It was enlightening to see the simple ways that Singapore uses its natural resources to benefit its citizens.

“We need and want to be close to nature, so we argue that nature is not something optional. It’s absolutely essential,” said Tim Beatley, a member of the Biophilic Cities organization, which produced the film. 

The Richmond Environmental Film Festival kicked off on Saturday with a discussion about the first film, “Singapore: Biophilic City,” led by Tim Beatley, a member of the Biophilic Cities Organization. Photo by Marlena Artis

“The Lorax” (1972)

I had only previously seen the 2012 3D animated film of the same name, but this original, classic tale was short, sweet and straight to the point. 

The story is a lighthearted tale with a serious undertone about what can and will happen if we have too much control over our natural environment. 

In the beginning of the story, the native plants and animals thrive freely. One day when the Once-ler stumbles onto the land, he realizes he can use the luscious trees to create his all-in-one product called Thneeds. The Lorax quickly tries to stop the Once-ler from using up all of the trees, but the Once-ler never listens. Over time the trees run out from overexploitation, and the Lorax has nothing left to protect. 

In its 25 minute runtime, “The Lorax,” manages to comment on environmentalism, capitalism and the dangers of exploiting limited natural resources, all perfectly packaged into a children’s cartoon. 

“The Butterfly Tree” (2018)

The last film of the weekend was “The Butterfly Tree,” and it documents the story of the remarkable migration patterns of monarch butterflies. The butterflies make a cross-generational migration from Canada and the eastern coast of the United States, all the way down to central Mexico for the winter. 

The film loosely follows a set of interviews of people who have dedicated their life and work to following the migration patterns of monarch butterflies. At first, I was taken aback by the film’s nonlinear structure, but as it progressed all of the information began to fit together like a puzzle piece.

As much as the film emphasized the documentation of this natural phenomenon, it also explained the metaphorical and symbolic meaning behind the life cycle of the butterfly. 

Butterflies undergo magnificent transformation and growth within their lifespan, and it all comes from basic instinct. They don’t understand why they migrate thousands of miles, but they do it because they know they must. The film posed a question: If butterflies can do all of this instinctually, what’s stopping us from achieving our goals? 

The festival continues until Friday, showing one film per day at various locations throughout Richmond. For more information, visit

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