Nature is trying to tell us something but are we paying attention? Environmental films blew into the program this year with messages to wake us up. Although Carlos Alphonso Corral’s debut film DIRTY FEATHERS focuses on homelessness, the environment is ever present as we watch a group hidden in the shadows trying to escape the oppressive hot dry sun beating down on them in this El Paso border town. He casts light on the hardships of living on the street but shows the resilience of this group of homeless survivors who manage to endure this situation through emotional bonding. The hand held black and white footage reveals a harsh environment where no one wishes to stay too long in the sun. They comfort one another while reflecting on their pasts including violence, mental illness, and addiction that have forced them to live this marginal way of life. While giving an intimate characterization, Corral exposes their hopes and dreams as well as the demons that they face. Although the film attempts to give hope for the future, I felt skeptical that it could easily tip in the other direction and everything could be lost.
BEANS by Canadian film director Tracey Deer reminds us of a historical moment where her community fought to save the environment. The film is based on a true story of the Oka Crisis at Kanesatake, Quebec in 1990 with Mohawk communities fighting to protect their burial ground, which lies deep in the forests, against developers and government forces. Tekehentahkhwa (Kiawentiio Tarbell), a.k.a. Beans is a young smart girl who wants to go to prestigious school despite her being an outsider. When the Oka Crisis takes place, Beans’ perspective on life takes a U-turn as she witnesses violence and an angry community. She forced to make a decision: either learn to stand up for what she believes in or run away. This coming-of-age film won the Best Picture Award at the 9th Canadian Screen Awards and the John Dunning Best First Feature Film Award this year.
Danish director Robin Petré’s documentary FROM THE WILD SEA focuses on the series of increasingly violent storms which are occurring along the costal line of the British Isles around Cornwall. Due to the occurrences of glacial terminus break, we are just seeing the beginning of these storms. Petré introduces Dan Jarvis, Welfare Development and Field Support Officer of the British Diver Marine Life Rescue who collaborates with James Barnett, a veterinarian who through post mortem exams on the marine animals exposes the impact of the industrial world on nature. As volunteers prepare to help injured seal pups with food and warmth through another year of harsh winter storms, we are left with a sense of hopelessness as we look into the eyes of a stranded whale. With these haunting images in my mind’s-eye made me wonder how can we change this path.
Director Fern Silva uses an experimental artist approach to her full-length feature film. It dives straight into an essay while vibrantly filming a mass of slow-moving lava while expounding on geology, astronomy and ethnography. Hawaii has long been an island of interest to many and is the location of Mauna Kea, a sacred and holy mountain. The island has a constant lava flow which has drawn attention to the scientists planning to build the world’s largest telescope. ROCK BOTTOM RISER describes the ancient forms of the cosmos and attempts to make us understand the connections between mankind and our universe.
I felt so honored to have the chance to interview Brazilian filmmaker and anthropologist Luiz Bolognesi. He gave me a personal view of how critical the situation has become in Brazil. His film A ÚLTIMA FLORESTA (THE LAST FOREST) cries out to us to recognize our mistakes on environmental issues and demands that we make changes. The film first focuses on the industrial policies that the recently elected president Jair Bolsonaro has decided to implement and the effect and it is having on the environment. The area in focus was of the Yanomami which is a massive region that is home to the largest indigenous population in Brazil. Bolognesi insisted that the film was made in collaboration with the shaman Davi Kopenawa Yanomami who is internationally known for fighting against intruders on their lands. He wanted the film to have the voice of the indigenous tribe living there and therefore included a sequence of their creation myths, ways of life, and their struggles to preserve this fragile eco-system.
Their biggest fears come from the gold prospectors who poison the waters with mercury in order to extract this precious metal. Yanomami teaches the tribe to avoid the temptation of moving to the city. He explained that the miners attempt to lure the younger generation to join them and go to the cities where they often become beggars, thieves or drug addicted and alcoholics with no future. It could have been a documentary with a foreseeable depressing outcome if it were not for this shaman. Davi Kopenawa Yanomami’s teachings and knowledge helps strengthen the Yanomami people as they join together to fight. Full of hope, he lectures at Harvard with a strong message for us to hear. So please open your ears and listen.