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In Focus: Kids helping save the world

A scene from "Arctic Camel."Courtesy Belmont World Film.

In the spirit of 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, Belmont World Film’s 17th annual Family Film Festival (Jan. 17-20) will present a program of documentary shorts and a feature documentary about kids leading the way in saving the planet. Each youngster demonstrates the kind of aplomb, determination, and skill that might save the planet from the problems older generations have failed to solve.

Butterflies, plastic straws, and power plants are topics in the documentary shorts in It’s Easy Being Green: Kids Helping the Environment & Other Stories (Jan. 19, Studio Cinema, Belmont).

The title 11-year-old boy in Brad Mays’s “Aiden’s Butterflies” has been helping monarch butterflies, an endangered species because of their shrinking habitats, since he was 6. He raises them from eggs to caterpillars that weave jade-colored chrysalises. From these emerge the saffron-and-black-patterned adults that soon begin a 3,000-mile migration from New Jersey to their breeding spot in Mexico. Gentle and driven, Aiden offers many useful tips about the care and feeding of these lovely creatures, including how to mend a broken wing.

A scene from "Aiden's Butterflies."Courtesy Belmont World Film.

In Lynne Cherry’s “The Last Straw” 9-year-old Milo Cress, from Vermont, learned about the environmental threat posed by the proliferation of plastic drinking straws and decided to do something about it. Business-like in a jacket and tie, the Cupped Crusader addresses Congress, engages the support of state governors, elicits promises from restaurateurs to offer patrons the option to go strawless, and inspires other schoolkids to join his cause.


Cherry presents another formidable young person in “Words Have Power” (a Q&A with the filmmaker and the subject, Jaysa Mellers, follows the program). When Mellers, from Bridgeport, Conn., was 6 she had an asthma attack so severe she was rushed to the emergency room. By the time she was 10 she noticed that many other students in her school also suffered from respiratory problems caused by the town’s coal-burning power plant.


Rather than resign herself to the situation, she accepted an invitation to make an address at city hall. It was such a success that she continued campaigning and speaking until the plant closed. “Even though I didn’t have money, I had words,” she says. “And words have power.”

In Karl Emil Rikardsen’s feature documentary “Arctic Camel” (Jan. 18, Studio Cinema), 9-year-old Torarin and his older sister Svalin live in the kids’ paradise of Akkarfjord, a village in northernmost Norway. There they enjoy the spectacularly bleak landscape and the company of a pair of Bactrian camels, a gift from their father. These are huge, stubborn, but lovable two-humped beasts shaped like an unsuccessful attempt at cursive handwriting.

Stymied in their efforts to ride the animals, the two kids and their parents travel to equally bleak but flatter Mongolia to enlist the services of a camel trainer. There they learn that camels are not pampered like theirs are back home, but are regarded as livestock, not pets. When a local agrees to visit them back in Norway to help with their camels, his methods prove harsher than they are comfortable with. Rikardsen’s film is a subtle look at different cultural attitudes regarding nature and animals and is more about how people learn than it is about training camels.

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Peter Keough can be reached at