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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Sunday, February 17, 2019
“It just happened,” is what Dr. Thomas Shevory told me when I asked him how he came to first start working as co-director of FLEFF.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Shevory on an early Thursday morning. Ithaca was, as always, in one of its fits of weather. This particular day the weather was warm, but an uncalled-for fog pervaded Ithaca College’s campus, not allowing one to see more than 10 feet ahead.
The earliest morning classes had not started yet, and with no other students in sight, the college was eerie and mysterious, with buildings engulfed by the thick fog.
I sat in Dr. Shevory’s warm office and forgot about the sinister scene outside as I became immersed in conversation on the ephemerality and impermanence of clear-made plans and goals.
He spoke of how he never expected to be a film festival co-director. He got a call from the first director of FLEFF during its first year. The director asked if he could screen a film in one of his classrooms and Shevory said yes. “I could have said no and none of this would have ever happened.”
If you live your life with clear set goals and expectations of what you want to do and where you want to go, according to Shevory, you miss a lot.
“It just happened,” was also Dr Shevory’s answer when I asked how he got into Environmental Politics. In graduate school he was studying constitutional law and political theory. But when he first got to IC, one opportunity arose after the next and soon he was teaching upper level environmental politics classes. Now the discipline is one of his main scholarships. “It was just an accident. A lot of things just happen.”
As co-director of the festival, Dr. Shevory along with his partner Dr. Zimmermann manage and oversee most of the festivals operations from the programming, marketing and publicity to the organizing and meeting and inviting of guests.
Professor by day and co-festival director by night, Shevory says they’ve worked out a system. After doing it for so long, it’s not hard to juggle the two roles. It comes down to systematically spreading out the work over the course of a year.
The festival has changed a lot since he first got involved. From DVDs, video tapes and 35 mm film to now just the push of a button. From the old Fall Creek Theatre to Ithaca's downtown independent cinema, Cinemapolis. And from almost no audience to thousands of people in attendance.
“The first year we did it nobody showed up,” says Shevory laughing. Some films had audiences but some had none at all. With time, it showed that a compilation of brilliant films isn’t enough, it isn’t anything without someone to see them. The two co-directors now spend a lot of time on marketing and promoting the event, partnering with various organizations and groups in the community and on campus.
Thinking back over the past 20 years of the festival, Shevory says, laughing, that the moments that stand out are the mistakes. “Once Fall Creek caught on fire, once we burned the film,” once someone who lived 20 miles away left the DVD at home and had to go get it. “So it’s the mistakes and the things that go wrong that you tend to remember.”
At the end of the day, the thing he enjoys most about FLEFF are the people. Having excited people come year after year creates a wonderful sense of community according to the co-director.
And so with a notebook of answered questions, a 28-minute recording on my phone and a sense of excitement about my un-plannable, accident-prone and unpredictable future I stepped back outside and walked into the fog again.