Saving the Pine Barrens tree frog at the Philly Environmental Film Fest

New Jersey’s Pine Barrens is one of the only habitats in the world that the Pine Barrens tree frog can thrive in, but most of their human neighbors may not even know they exist.

“They’re almost impossible to find,” said Dr. Carlos Martinez Rivera, amphibian conservation biologist at the Philadelphia Zoo. “But if you go to the right swamp at the right time of day, you’ll be deafened with the sound of Pine Barrens tree frogs.”

This type of tree frog (Hyla andersonii), known for its emerald green color, is named after South Jersey’s massive forest, and is only known to live in two other places, the Carolinas and Florida panhandle. But in New Jersey, Rivera is concerned that encroaching residential development could be throwing off the balance of the specific environmental factors that tree frogs need to live. He tells this story in “Thriving With Their Feet Wet,” a short film by Mitchell Smith that will be among the offerings at the second annual Philly Environmental Film Festival (PEFF) this weekend.

“I think you come away feeling concerned but also inspired. None of our films would leave you feeling hopeless,” said Debra Wolf Goldstein, PEFF executive director and co-founder. “If there are ones that do leave you feeling, ‘Oh, this problem is just so large,’ we balance it with shorts that tell inspiring stories about solutions, because there are solutions out there.”

Goldstein started this festival last year with Artistic Director Alexandra Diagne. She said Philadelphia’s growing sustainability movement, from watershed work by the Water Department to ongoing investments and upgrades to the city’s treasured Fairmount Park, the largest urban park system in the country, make it a ripe place to hold such a festival.

“We’re looking for films that really bring the planet to Philadelphia,” Goldstein said. “These environmental films highlight people’s stories. They’re not dry documentaries spouting numbers and statistics — they’re interesting stories about how people are dealing with climate change.”

Philadelphians will have the opportunity to learn a lot about the environment around them at the festival, from the Pine Barrens tree frog to the impact of Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philly, and a film focusing on the challenges faced by the Delaware River Watershed, which provides drinking water to 15 million people from the Poconos to the Delaware Bay. The festival will also screen “Big Lebowski” actor Jeff Bridges’ new environmental documentary, “Living in the Future’s Past.”

But some films show the potentially apocalyptic side of climate change. “Anote’s Ark” studies the tiny island nation of Kiribati, which is slowly being flooded and which is seeking to buy land in New Zealand so the entire nation can move there.

“They’re like the canary in a gold mine,” Goldstein said. “What happens to them is going to happen to all our coastal areas, eventually — it’s a matter of time.”

If you go

The second annual Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival runs April 6-8, 2018.

A block of Philly-centric films will be shown at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 7, including “Thriving With Their Feet Wet,” and will be followed by a discussion with Dr. Rivera.

Jeff Bridges’ “Living in the Future’s Past” will be screened at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 7.

Tickets are $12 per showing, $35 for a weekend pass and $5 for students or children.

All screenings will be at the Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.

Visit for the full film schedule.

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