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The 20th anniversary of D.C.’s Environmental Film Festival is underway (March 13-25) and shouldn’t be missed, in part because there’s nothing quite like it. This assemblage of films from around the world makes the urgency of climate change both real and provocative, and provides a running history of the environmental movement itself.

Symbolically, Washington’s cherry trees are already in bloom, ten days early, as the Japanese ambassador pointed out at the ceremony for this year’s winner of the Polly Krakora Award for artistry in film. It went to Academy-Award-nominated director Lucy Walker for The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, an alternately riveting and sad film about the 2011 disaster and its aftermath that manages to avoid difficult questions.

After the ceremony, one exasperated viewer stood to ask if there was evidence that building on Japan’s coastal plain would be prevented in the future, something neither the ambassador nor the director addressed. Yet it’s clear from the film that the clean-up and disposal of waste from last year’s devastating tsunami has caused a second, equally dire environmental disruption.

Film still from Wild By Law. Photo courtesy Florentine Films

The vast majority of the films on display at the festival (many of which are premieres), however, bring riveting and entertaining attention to explicitly environmental problems. There’s something for everyone here, from Wild By Law (which presents the story of the Wilderness Act‘s creation) to Wild Scandinavia. Other don’t-miss features include California Forever: Parks and the Future, Shattered Sky, and Aral: The Lost Sea.

Ken Burns will even be on hand on the festival’s final day to present a special sneak preview of his upcoming documentary, The Dust Bowl.

The screening locations themselves — from the National Archives to the AFI Silver — will take you around the city and beyond and amount to another, fascinating historical and architectural tour of the nation’s capital.

Film still from California Forever. Photo courtesy Backcountry Pictures

For more information about the Environmental Film Festival, visit dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.

James Conaway is a featured contributor on Intelligent Travel, and writes freelance for National Geographic Traveler and other publications devoted to travel, history, and culture. Read more from James on his wine blog.