By Dale Hudson, New York University Abu Dhabi and Co-Currator of FLEFF's New Media Exhibitions, March 18, 2022
Expanding Expectations


One of many experiences at FLEFF that really changed the way that I thought about the environment was screening Steve Seid and Peter Conheim’s VALUE-ADDED CINEMA (2003) as part of the festival that intersected with a course that I was teaching at Ithaca College in 2006. 

VALUE-ADDED CINEMA is an example of a film that FLEFF screened that would not likely be selected for other environmental film festivals. FLEFF also screened Aradhana Seth’s DAM/AGE: A FILM WITH ARUNDHATI ROY (2002) about environmental devastation and mass dispossession of marginalized communities by massive dam projects in India. And it screened was Judith Helfland and Daniel Gold’s BLUE VINYL (2001) about the toxins in materials used to construct houses in the United States. Those films fit standard expectations. This one expanded them.

VALUE-ADDED CINEMA presents other environmental hazards with which many people contend on a daily basis: images of consumer products in Hollywood cinema.  

I had not pre-screened the film, so I watched it with only the catalogue blurb to guide me. I was also guided by my experience the previous year with FLEFF. The codirectors, Patty Zimmermann and Tom Shevory, organized the festival around key words. 

Discussions emerged through the lens of key words that made possible new ways of thinking about environmentalism. The terms were never the expected or predictable ones, but ones that pushed thinking in new directions. 

Dale Hudson

Dale Hudson, New York University Abu Dhabi and Co-Currator of FLEFF's New Media Exhibitions

Audiences were engaged to do the work of making connections rather than learning about something and going home, knowing that the issue could be isolated and contained.

VALUE ADDED CINEMA is a compilation of scenes from commercial Hollywood films. The filmmakers selected images that included product placement. From food items on a table to signage on buildings, when edited together these images offer a surprising glimpse into how the marketing of cheap products and promoting or consumerist practices has become one of our environments. 

In some ways, this Hollywood media was as polluted as the air, land, materials, and water used in the production cheap appliances, clothes, electronics, food, services, travel, and vehicles. 

We are seduced to accumulate, consume, discard, and repeat. 

Our contributions to the destruction of the planet are stitched into the images that we are asked to consider entertainment. Rejecting the consumerist demand for new and original images, professionally pedigreed with IP protection, the film collected the high-end advertising as refuse littering images that were once ad-free. 

The discussion with the students went well, though some of the members of the community who joined—and were the age of the students’ grandparents—were less persuaded that refusing to consume could be as political as protesting on the Common in downtown Ithaca. 

More than a decade later, I remember the film for how it helped me to notice mediated environments as part of the natural and built environments that constitute our mental and physical health. It also shows us how the U.S. worship of capitalism as somehow synonymous with democracy values corporations and brands more than it does the planet, including its human inhabitants.