Let’s get filming – let’s change the world

‘The Man who Mends Things. Still from the film. Credit Annie Farley The film won ‘Best Film’ and ‘Director’s Director’ awards at the 2023 Frome International Climate Film Festival

YouTube footage from the climate change conference COP 26 in Glasgow in 2021  reveals scores of delegates chanting “Another world is possible”. It reflected their disillusionment at the compromised conference process and at the lack of governments’ commitment to meaningful action in the face of the escalating climate crisis. While, unsurprisingly, the footage was not widely profiled on mainstream media, James Godman and his friends were among the many around the world who were similarly frustrated. Their response was to set about organising what became the first Frome International Climate Film Festival.

Why film? For James, who has put in his own funds to make it happen, the festival is all about making the climate crisis visible. 

“When I walk through Frome or Bradford-on-Avon,” he says, “I wouldn’t know things need to change. And if I do decide I need to buy a sustainable shopping basket I can afford, how do I find out more, where do I go to access the information? There are so many different groups out there trying to make change, but how do you connect with them?” 

He sees film as having

“the ability to inspire, connect, support knowledge-sharing and promote the need for change. The tools are very often free (phones for example), so the route to market is there for all age groups without the need for additional costly infrastructure”.

The festival promotes an emerging filmmakers’ collective, linking in with local film networks such as Somerset Film, and helping local environmental groups to get their message across with film. Making the films themselves is just the start of the process, of course. It’s also about getting them in front of audiences, whether this be governments, schools, civil or community organisations and the Festival provides a good place to start.

The festival’s growth has been exponential, from around twenty films submitted in the first year to over 800, from all over the world in this, its third year. It is clear evidence of the urgent need a multitude of communities feel for platforms to give voice to their concerns. It is evidence, it would seem, of an unquenchable thirst for change.

The international team of judges has asked three key questions of the films to establish those most worthy of an award: does the film raise awareness of the climate and the environment? Does it help to promote a greener lifestyle? Does it help to reconnect audiences with the environment? From the 800 entries, they have identified 300 from which shortlists will be drawn.

James Godman and the 2023 Festival award winners. Credit: Frome International Climate Film Festival

The 2024 festival runs over the weekend of 18-19 May, the Saturday focused on local and family activities, and the Sunday on screening shortlisted films followed by the film awards in the evening. From a small hall in a council building in year one, the event moves in year three to the Cheese and Grain in the middle of town, a venue with seating capacity for 500. Reflecting James Godman’s commitment to making the Festival as affordable as possible, the whole event is free to attend, although donations are welcome. You can just turn up on the day. There is no obligation to book in advance, although you can do so if you wish via the website.  

As well as many more films from round the world (including a special selection of young people’s films from Mexico), this year’s programme is pitched to be as accessible as possible, in part through the engagement of numerous organisations, many of them local. The programme includes children’s eco-art activities, a community choir, a green technology zone, an eco-fashion zone, Indian dance, eco yoga, an ‘eco-chill’ zone, riverside walks and workshops.

On Sunday evening there’s a post-awards party with local bands. The headliner is Scott O’Hara, winner of the 2023 Festival music competition, who says,

“There’s a great tradition in songwriting to not only protest, but also to bring a personal connection to an idea or a movement. The environment has been a theme for decades and my song Edge of Forever tries to do the same with a song about climate change. The festival provides a really great platform for it to reach a wider audience. I hope that submissions to the songwriting competition grow as exponentially as the filmmaking has.”

The man who Mends Things. Still. Credit Annie Farley

“What will it take for people to wake up?”, asked Greta Thunberg on the Youth Climate Strike March at COP 26.

This festival can surely make a difference. “I like a challenge”, says James; “the festival should be run by younger people really, but I am always optimistic, it’s small steps. We need to give something back, don’t we, that’s my mission.”