Green Spotlight: New documentary directors with a depth of experience

The San Francisco Green Film Festival aims to provide as varied a program as possible, giving voice to filmmakers with a kaleidoscope of perspectives, styles, and stories.

This year, we have a cadre of directors with the newly minted credit of 'documentary film director' who are, in fact, old-hands at filmmaking. They may not have directed a feature length documentary before, but they've paid their dues as camera operators, editors, writers, actors and even directors of other film genres. 

This means that while their films are infused with an invigorating energy, rookie director flaws are few and far between.


Craig Leeson's first feature-length documentary, A Plastic Ocean, will be shown on Friday, April 21, at 6:00pm in the Roxie.

A Plastic Ocean may be Craig Leeson’s first feature-length documentary, but it’s hardly his first foray into ecological story-telling.

Leeson has enjoyed a busy career as a newspaper and television journalist for decades, and has more recently directed and produced television documentaries for the National Geographic Channel in Asia. With A Plastic Ocean, he naturally follows his nose for news.

Furthermore, as a lifelong surfer who was born and raised in Tasmania, Australia, Leeson has always been interested in the health of the oceans.

He thus signed on to this film project which began as a search for ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’.

Leeson and his crew end up making an important ecological discovery about what happens to the plastic in the Pacific.

The film’s unusual slant is that viewers are made to feel like they are in on the detective work, and are discovering the surprising results in real time.

Katie Schuler has co-directed the short Pangolin, which will be screened on Saturday, April 22, at 12:30pm in the Roxie.

Pangolin, a twelve-minute short focusing on the hunting, killing and processing of one single member of the world’s most-poached species, is officially Katie Schuler’s directorial debut.

However, Schuler has been telling stories about the natural world throughout her life.

"Inspiration is easy to come by when you grow up along the Gulf Coast," she says.

"Surrounded by wildlife, nature fueled my passion for art, photography and visual storytelling, leading me to over a decade of collaboration alongside scientists, journalists and explorers worldwide.”

And Schuler’s style is indeed far more collaborative then directorial.

During the filming of Pangolin, Schuler worked with a co-director, Nick Rogacki; they employ imagery which intertwines both delicate beauty and harsh brutality to tell this sad but important story; and Schuler contributes not only as a co-director, but also as writer and producer, through her own production company, Coral and Oak Studios.


Ryan Killackey's first feature film, Yasuni Man, is showing on Sunday, April 23, at 8:30pm in the Little Roxie.

The director, producer and cinematographer of Yasuni Man came to filmmaking by way of wolverines, freshwater frogs and Alaskan bears.

Oh my.

After graduation from the University of Montana, Ryan Killackey started his career as a field biologist in the United States studying, tracking, and humanely trapping these animals.

He then landed in the Ecuadorian Amazon in pursuit of some amazing amphibians, which he then learned how to photograph and film. 

Since then, Killackey has used his new skills wisely, immersing himself in ecological story telling. He worked on a number of projects for Giant Screen Films (3D/IMAX), National Geographic, PBS, Yale E360 and others.

In 2015, his short One Village at a Time: Community Health Workers on the Front Line made a splash. 

But Yasuni Man, Killackey's first feature film, is where his artistry is fully revealed.

The film is an incredible expedition through Yasuni – a 1,500 kilometer journey along 7 rivers - exploring the impact of oil development on the biodiversity of the forest and its people.

Can You Dig This is director Delila Vallot's first documentary. It will be shown on Saturday, April 22, at 8:30pm in the Roxie.

Director Delila Vallot started out her show business career in front of the camera - as a dancer, actress and print model.

Transitioning from being the 'pretty face/sexy body' being told what to do by a director, to helming an environmental documentary is a seriously difficult endeavor.

It's rarely even attempted.

Rarer still, is success.

Happily, though, Vallot has the intelligence, drive and grit to give us this gorgeous, award-winning documentary.

She learned by doing, making both short experimental films and a suspense-filled feature, Tunnel Vision (2013), along the way.

Can You Dig This, is Vallot's first full-length documentary feature.

Both whimsical and deadly serious, the film depicts an effort to tame and transform one of the world’s most crime-ridden urban areas - Vallot’s dad's own South Central LA neighborhood - through community gardening.


Find out more about the Green Film Fest 2017, which takes place April 20-26 at the Castro Theatre, Roxie, and venues across the city.