Save the Bay: Filmmaker Milly Cohen

Milly Cohen is one of the eminently talented Miami creatives who contributed to Oolite Arts’ Save the Bay campaign. Their PSA is one of the several shorts from the initiative highlighting how locals can do their part to preserve the water quality of Biscayne Bay.

Now through Wednesday, August 11, you can rewatch their short and others (just scroll to the bottom of 👉 this page) and vote for your favorite. The winner will be announced on Friday, August 13, when they’ll receive an honorary People’s Choice Award along with a $1,000 prize.

Read on for our full Q&A with Cohen. More info on Oolite Arts’ Save the Bay campaign and a roundup of The New Tropic’s interviews with participating filmmakers can be found right here.

Name and pronouns:

Milly Cohen (they/them)

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your creative practices, and your ties to Miami-Dade?

I was born and raised in Miami. I went to school at Dr.Michael Krop Senior High, where I worked a lot with painting, illustrating, and sculpture. 

I have always enjoyed skateboarding, which to me is a very creative practice that is closely tied to filmmaking. A few years back I started making very experimental films and documentaries, but my love for drawing and creating cute characters drove me to learn all the programs needed to bring those drawings to life. Whenever I’m drawing and animating, I find myself laughing and singing with my drawings, so I hope my films can make other people feel the same way. 

What’s your personal connection to Biscayne Bay? Do you have any personal formative memories that took place there?

Growing up in Miami, Biscayne Bay has always been a central location to chill with friends or to just look at while driving over the bridge and be like “Damn, that is beautiful.” 

My mom’s favorite animal is the manatee, so I always felt proud to know that they live around here. 

One time I was with a few friends at a beach in Key Biscayne, and a bunch of tiny fish kept coming up to me to suck on my belly button — that made me very happy. 

What can you share with us about your PSA? What were the driving concepts or ideas that informed it?

When I heard about the issues surrounding the bay, it made me think of a very powerful quote [that’s been attributed to] Albert Einstein: “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” 

I didn’t know how I would illustrate this message in the film, but I definitely wanted to maintain an optimistic outlook on what the future of Biscayne Bay can be like if we all work together. 

It was important for me to show that environmental scientists and marine biologist experts are already tackling this issue, but that the general public also plays a huge role in the outcome of the bay’s condition [and can help] just by making a few simple changes in their day-to-day actions. 

The visual style and structure of my film was also heavily inspired by Ege Soyour’s “NYC 25×25 for Transportation Alternatives,” which clearly and beautifully uses animation to transform the landscape from being dense and polluted to one that is abundant and thriving. 

How do you think art can help inspire folks and shape conversations around pressing issues like climate change?

I think art — and especially films — can leave a huge emotional impact on audiences and can inspire them to stand up for issues like climate change in their communities. 

Videos are used to influence people’s decision-making on the internet all of the time, so let’s make this one go viral, OK? 

What do you hope viewers take away from your PSA or how they might be inspired by it?

I want people to know that natural waters are resilient and that the sooner we act as a community, the better chance we have of making a clean recovery. 

The waters of Tampa Bay have recently faced a similar issue regarding saltwater contamination. But thanks to a 20-year recovery effort by the Southwest Florida Water Management and Tampa Bay Water, they were able to recover more than 1,300 lakes, wetlands, and other water bodies in Northern Tampa Bay. 

Right now, both Miami and Tampa are seeing the fallout of having phosphorus in the water due to things that people don’t often think about, like using fertilizer or not picking up their dog poo. It will take time for new policies to be implemented by the county that will help improve our water systems, but I believe we should all take responsibility in keeping our home clean. 

I hope to encourage individuals to dive deeper, do further research on how they can help the Biscayne Bay, see the severe consequences of our dying oceans and coral reefs, and grasp how much that affects our environment.

Whether in the short or long term, what are the most immediate steps people can take to help Save the Bay?

It’s important to keep in mind that all things that happen on land eventually end up in the water. So we need to immediately stop polluting the land and leaving harmful things like fertilizer and dog poo lying around. 

I recommend looking into the Biscayne Bay Task Force and their accompanying recovery plan. They are the leading team tackling the recovery of the Biscayne Bay in Miami-Dade County, and their initiative lays out the solutions for water quality, governance, infrastructure, habitat restoration, marine debris, education and outreach, plus funding that is all required for a long-term plan to restore Biscayne Bay.