ITHACA, N.Y.—The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) is already in full swing, having started its three-week run on March 20 and with a packed schedule until April 9.

The annual film festival features concerts, art exhibitions, panels, roundtables, 26 films from here and abroad, including screenings at Cinemapolis in downtown Ithaca with reaction talks afterwards, with over 40 presenters appearing during the festival. More details on all events can be found here.

FLEFF is celebrating its 26th year, but its first with mostly in-person events since 2019. Executive Director Dr. Patricia Zimmermann said the festival is embracing three modalities to celebrate this year, for in-person, streaming and hybrid events. With those fingerprints of the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, Zimmermann said she believes a pendulum has swung on the media people are interested in consuming, which could be beneficial for FLEFF.

“It’s fascinating this year,” Zimmermann said. “The last few years […] It has driven people to look for things that provide alternatives to arguing and fighting. People have spent three years watching pop culture fare, and they’re ready for complex art, complex movies. They’re ready for not everything to be web-based, they’re ready to be part of the wider world.”

Zimmermann said distributors and filmmakers wouldn’t approve use of their movies if they weren’t being shown in-person, making other options fairly infeasible. She said that the contributions of Cinemapolis, then, have proven invaluable for the festival.

“It’s not even on the table, it’s just the way the film industry has gone,” she said. “We’re dealing with filmmakers internationally, and we would not be able to book the stuff we have. They won’t allow virtual screenings, it’s in-theater or nothing.”

The name and origins of the festival certainly center on the environment, but there’s a wide variety of interests on display. Science, art, culture are all topics to be discussed or shown—Zimmermann mentioned that there’s a panel on artificial intelligence next week, for instance.

“The world changes, and you have to be able to be responsive to it, and you have to figure out what kind of public space do you need to create for your audience,” Zimmermann said. “If someone would have told me that, on a Wednesday night at Cinemapolis for a French-African co-production film, that we would have over 100 people there, I never would have believed it was possible.”

While there are plenty of options to choose from, one creating arguably the most buzz is “Move When The Spirit Says Move: The Life and Legacy of Dorothy Foreman Cotton,” a documentary about famed civil rights figure Dorothy Cotton, an Ithaca native. The film was directed by Ithacans Ry Ferro and Deborah C. Hoard, and written by Ferro, an Ithaca College graduate.

Zimmermann said the movie’s premier, on March 25 at Cinemapolis, sold out in less than 30 hours. Luckily, there are still opportunities to see the movie throughout its subsequent two-week run at Cinemapolis.

COVID-19 certainly hasn’t ceased existence, and Zimmerman said she’s actually fielded calls from those interested in going who want to attend but would prefer to go to events that are less popular, with an eye toward avoiding sizable crowds. Zimmerman said she’s been steering those people toward mid-day or later screenings.

“We’re trying to be responsive to those different needs,” Zimmerman said. “It’s an interesting development. […] In the end, a festival is about community-building, about your audience, about putting ideas out there, about absorbing lots and lots of change.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief at The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at