Festival Recap: Visual Storytelling for Environmental Nonprofits

Steve Ellington (EIA) and Alexandra Garcia (iLCP)
September 24, 2017 | 10:16 am by Mandar Apte

By Jen Smith

“If you want to win the hearts of and minds of people, it’s through stories,” said Media Rise co-founder Mandar Apte, introducing a workshop on media’s role in promoting environmental sustainability on Wednesday, September 30 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The workshop panelists included the following environmental activists and storytellers:

Steve Ellington began the discussion by showing the short EIA film, Holzindustrie Schweighofer & Illegal Timber, which exposed large-scale corruption and illegal logging in Romania. The EIA’s primary mission is to investigate and expose environmental crime, and in turn, empower locals and advocacy networks to stop that crime in their community.

“Once we have that information, it’s not enough to just have it and tell people about it,” Ellington said. “You have to implement strategies to actually fix the problem.”

Using examples from the film, Ellington highlighted the importance of the “2 Cs” and “2 Ts” of creating an impactful film: context & content, and target & timeliness.


Alexandria Garcia spoke next on behalf of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), which partners with conservation organizations around the world to help them visually document their work and the places, cultures or species they try to protect.

Garcia stressed the importance of incorporating a human story into environmental photography narratives.

“We firmly believe that it’s impossible to have effective conservation policies without including the human element and without including local communities in the development of policies and regulations that affect their land and natural resource use or access to it,” she said.

Demonstrating iLCP’s approach to storytelling, Garcia is organizing an event on November 16 called WiLDSPEAK, a photo festival, communications symposium, and celebration of the power of visual media.

Witness – An Introduction to iLCP from iLCP on Vimeo.


Former Chief Cartographer at National Geographic Allen Carroll spoke further about storytelling through maps.

Click here to listen to Carroll’s explanation about Story Maps:


Meghan Parker closed out the panel with a discussion on how to inform and inspire policymakers.

“Most importantly to me and where we focus our work at the [Wilson] Center is using storytelling as a way to increase a nuanced understanding of a complex issue,” she said.

The center’s Population, Health and Environment initiative was developed promote greater understanding of complex global development problems. The film Healthy People, Healthy Environment: Integrated Development in Tanzania shows how family planning and access to clean cook stoves provided economic opportunity, empowerment and ultimately improved the lives of women in a coastal community in Tanzania.

“These films show that you do have to address a human side to provide an entry point to the environment,” Parker said. “The value of conservation is not just about the animals, but most importantly is about the people.”