Film focused

Conservation ecology alumna now runs annual EcoFocus Film Festival

Film focused

Sara Beresford

Photo by: Peter Frey

Sara Beresford sets a stack of papers on her recycled wooden desk. It’s tall enough for her to stand behind, and as a woman on the move that suits her perfectly. While she talks about her job as EcoFocus Film Festival director, Beresford turns to the giant sheets of paper that adorn her wall. She’s covered them with charts, calendars, tallies and film titles.

“I’m trying to find the best form for attracting the most people,” she says. “One nice thing about being pretty autonomous is that I can experiment with the festival.”

EcoFocus is an annual environmental film festival in Athens, held March 23-31 this year. The Odum School of Ecology initiated the idea in 2007 and asked Beresford, an Odum graduate, to make it a reality.

Beresford eagerly accepted the project and in doing so assumed total responsibility. She’s a one-woman staff, and she depends on grant money and local sponsors for financial support.

“I’m not employed by the University,” she says. “I’m a contractor so I have a vested interest in gathering funds and the success of the festival.”

Since 2007 Beresford has committed herself to defining the festival and determining the best formula for its success.

“I go to a conference every year with 400 other people who do what I do, and the first year I walked away feeling totally intimidated,” she says.

“Now I’ve learned to be comfortable saying, ‘this is us.’ We don’t have to be glitzy, red carpet with celebrities. We’re an environmental film festival, and we show people good films.”

This year Beresford plans to show 10 to 12 feature films. Each feature will open with a short film and close with a related speaker or panel discussion. Beresford hosts showings all over Athens, and she puts a lot of care into deciding which films, locations and speakers will work best together.

She also puts a lot of time into watching more than 100 films and figuring out what audiences will want to watch.

“I try to offer something for everybody,” she says. “I’m appealing to people who are and are not environmentally conscious.”

When the festival first started, Beresford met criticism from people who thought she was just preaching to the choir. She’s happy for the choir to come, but Beresford believes movies are conducive to drawing a range of audiences.

“Film is a creative way to talk about the environment, because everyone likes to go to the movies,” she says. “A person might not go to a ballet or an opera because they feel intimidated, but they will still go see a movie.”

Beresford says new people come up to her every year and share a change they made after watching a film. Sometimes it’s as life altering as joining the Peace Corps, and other times people just switch from bottled to tap water. Either way Beresford’s satisfied.

“We want people to see the films, think on them and discuss them,” she says. “It’s kind of up to the audience where to go from there.”

With that goal in mind, Beresford feels her responsibilities as director, programmer, promoter and fundraiser are worth the effort. When all is said and done, her favorite part is settling in her seat and watching it all play out.

“The most rewarding part of this job is when I get it right,” she says. “When I sit in the back of a theater and see people laughing and leaving inspired.”

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