The trailer for the film “Play Again” begins with scenes of children easily identifying corporate logos and struggling to name flowers and plants.
Looking at a photo of a dandelion, one girl wrinkles her face. “Uh, some kind of weed,” she says.
The disparity between children’s familiarity with high technology and all of its trappings and their experience with the great outdoors is what inspired the making of Tonje Hessen Schei’s 2010 film, screening tonight as part of the three-day Olympia Environmental Film Festival at Capitol Theater.
“Tonje had come across a statistic that said the average child could identify more than 100 corporate logos but fewer than 10 native plant species in their backyard,” said Greg LeMieux of Portland, the film’s outreach coordinator. “That was really troubling to her.”
“Play Again” has screened at more than 35 festivals in more than 20 countries and won a number of awards. Filmmakers are in discussions with broadcast networks and also working to get the film into schools. They received a grant to make a shortened version of the film plus a study guide available to all teachers in Maine.
The documentary follows six Portland teens who go from lives spent mastering video games and sending, in one case, hundreds of text messages each day to a wilderness adventure at a camp led by Trackers NW.
“The film captures the helplessness of a generation hooked on virtual life and the freedom the children taste when that cord is cut, even momentarily,” Tobin Hack wrote in a review for the Portland Tribune. “Interspersed between the kids’ adventures, we hear from an impressive lineup of leading experts on childhood play, the neurology of screen-play, wilderness education, nature deficit disorder and childhood creativity.”
The teens discover the joys of nature. “I don’t even miss my phone,” one says. “It’s kind of fun being out here.”
Friday’s screening will be followed by a Q&A with LeMieux. Hessen Schei, formerly of Portland, has returned to her native Norway, and producer Meg Merrill is visiting Ecuador and has hosted screenings there.
“It seems to be an issue that’s affecting people all over the world,” LeMieux said. “Such a large majority of people has access to computers and cellphones. Teens are inundated with technology.
“We understand there’s an irony in asking people to come watch a movie about trying to step away from screens,” he added. “It’s all about the balance. We are trying to create discussion and work toward finding a balance between the natural and virtual worlds.”
6:30 p.m. “Play Again” (with a filmmakers Q&A) takes a half-dozen Portland teens raised on computers, cell phones and other gadgets on a wilderness adventure.
9 p.m. “The City Dark” explores light pollution, the constant bright lights of big cities that affect the natural world and our own lives.
4 p.m. “Lunch Line” (with a slideshow and panel discussion with local teens) maps out the history of the National School Lunch Program, which provides hot lunches to school children.
6:30 p.m. “The Economics of Happiness” (with filmmaker Q&A via Skype) examines the impact of globalization.
5 p.m. “Climate Refugees” (with a panel discussion) documents the human cost of the environmental changes happening around the globe. Environmental Film Festival