Safe, Affordable, Good Energy (SAGE TN), is a nonprofit recipient of the 2023 Rural Cinema Grant. Photo: Working Films

If your rural or small-town group is trying to have a bigger impact on environmental issues, the Rural Cinema project has a suggestion: Go to the movies.

Rural Cinema helps rural and small town leaders use film screenings “as a resource in their work for environmental justice and protection,” according to the grant program home page.

Environmental organizations that serve rural communities have until January 30, 2024, to apply for Rural Cinema. The grant provides screening equipment and training on how to get the public involved in environmental issues through film viewing events. 

Rural Cinema is organized by Working Films, a nonprofit that offers consultation to filmmakers and grassroots environmental groups.

Director of campaigns and strategy Andy Myers said he first witnessed the power of film while working with an environmental group when he was a student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).

“I was seeing that film had this power to invigorate the organizing that was happening and bring new people in,” Myers said in a phone interview with the Deesmealz.

Myers liked his work at UNCW so much that he started looking for career opportunities at organizations that shared his passion for the power of film. That's how Myers found Working Films, conveniently located in Wilmington, something he said was “random” in retrospect.

Film as a Tool for Protest and Advocacy

Myers said some of the previous grant recipients have used film screenings to protest gas pipeline infrastructure, advocate for environmental health, and promote ecological education, among other things.

SAGE Tennessee, an environmental nonprofit and 2023 grant recipient, used film screenings to engage their community in a conversation about the proposed Ridgeline Expansion Project, a 122-mile natural gas pipeline in the Upper Cumberland region. This past August, SAGE screened Not on This Land, a documentary about a community that defeated the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

North Carolina’s Environmental Justice Community Action Network (EJCAN), also a 2023 Rural Cinema grant recipient, helps people confront environmental challenges in their communities through mapping projects, pollution education campaigns, and water quality testing.

In 2022, Working Films funded screenings for Faith in Place, a nonprofit that encourages people of faith in Illinois to confront environmental injustice through projects that support sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and water quality protection. In August of 2022, Faith in Place held their first of four film screenings in Harrisburg, Illinois.

“Film screenings are about bringing more people into your organizing,” Myers said. “We see film as an integral part of the work they’re already doing. The program is about helping them see the connections between their work and film screenings.”

Should Your Organization Apply for a Rural Cinema Grant?

In addition to training organizations how to use film to get their communities involved, Working Films also gives away equipment like screens, projectors, and sound systems to grant participants. The program lasts a year, but recipients get to keep the film screening equipment permanently. 

The Mountain Watershed Association hosted film screening events in 2022 while participating in the Rural Cinema Program.

Throughout the grant program, experts from Working Films offer individualized training to organizations to help with anything from technical assistance to advice on how to host a discussion or panel after a screening.

“In general we want to see [applicants] who are organizing with the public,” Myers said about what they are looking for in an application.

Working Films is interested in funding organizations with a public-facing mission that are doing more than “writing reports and talking to legislators alone,” according to Myers.

Applications for Rural Cinema are open from now until Tuesday, January 30th, 2024. Organizations are eligible to apply if they serve rural communities or small towns that have been harmed by pollution, climate change, or extractive industries like mining and drilling. More information is available online.

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