Dallas Filmmaker Inspires Action Via Storytelling
Dallas filmmaker Michael Cain has always loved the power of film to tell a story. During his youth, he hopped the fence at a nearby drive-in movie theater to see as many films as possible. After a career in commercial real estate, Cain reinvented himself after the market went bust in the late 1980s and turned to his lifelong passion for film. He studied at the American Film Institute and has since gone on to make many feature-length films and documentaries. He’s co-founder of the Deep Ellum Film Festival, the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival (now the Dallas International Film Festival) and a production company, M3 Films, LLC.
Cain’s current project, the EarthxFilm Festival, was co-founded in 2017 with his friend Trammell S. Crow, who founded EarthX in 2011 (formerly Earth Day Dallas), which has become the world’s largest environmental expo, conference and film festival. Cain served on the founding board of directors and cites the inspiration for forming EarthxFilm as the screening of the 2015 Louie Psihoyos film, Racing Extinction. “It’s many examples get the message out about climate change and the effects mankind is having on the environment, especially wildlife,” he says. Cain and Crow saw value in adding an environmental film festival to EarthX, whose participants include businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions, government entities and the public.
“Our expectations were to create great programming for EarthxFilm,” Cain says. “Every movie we’ve pursued has accepted to attend and participate. The filmmakers understand that coming to Dallas, Texas—not the first place you’d expect a green event or a green festival—makes perfect sense. It’s not about preaching to the choir, but creating and engaging that next wave of passionate supporters.”
Cain, Crow and EarthX are currently executive producing a documentary on the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, entitled Bigger Than Water. He doesn’t expect film to always change minds, but he believes it is a powerful medium to create conversation and debate in a safe space that can lead to change. Through his industry connections, Cain and his team, including Artistic Director David Holbrooke and Producer Emily Hargrove, have brought to EarthxFilm projects by Psihoyos, and documentary filmmakers Jon Bowermaster, Jeff Orlowski, Kate Brooks and others.
James Balog’s The Human Element documents first-responders on the scene of climate disasters like the Northern California wildfires. “I heard people coming out of the theater asking, ‘How do I help? How do I get involved?’” Cain notes. “We don’t always push people to do anything, but we present the information in a way that makes them say, ‘I’m ready to make the move.’”
EarthxFilm brings films and filmmakers to schools. Screenings of A Plastic Ocean and Straws, which address plastic pollution in our waterways and single-use straws, inspired students to join EarthxFilm’s Strike Out Straws campaign to get restaurants to remove them and switch to paper and compostable straws. Those students also made short films about plastic straw pollution. EarthxFilm recently partnered with nonprofit Oxygen Project, founded by Rutherford Seydel, out of Atlanta, on a competition for college students to produce films about the role of phytoplankton.
Although Cain can’t yet confirm films for EarthxFilm 2019 from April 19 through 28, this year’s theme is water, and the festival has expanded to 10 days and multiple venues throughout the Dallas Metroplex area. “I stay inspired by Trammell’s vision that getting everyone together from all sides of the equation can be a solution to many environmental problems. We see what’s going on in government and how people find reasons not to talk to each other, but with an audience watching a movie, I see passion ignited and see change happening. With a new generation of filmmakers, we’ve created a lifetime of storytelling, and they’re not afraid to go after problems and celebrate the solutions in their communities.”
For more information, visit EarthX.org.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.