POV Picks: 5 Films to See at PiF


By Pat Mullen

Toronto’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival off today. This unseasonably warm October day is yet another reminder of the necessity to draw attention to global warming and environmental activism, and the festival aims to do just that with a full line-up of documentaries aimed to shape minds and spark debates on a variety of green causes.

We’ve had a chance to go through the line-up and want to highlight a few worthy films to catch at the festival. Here are five POV picks for PIF:

When: Thursday, Oct. 19 at the Royal at 6:30 PM

It’s a badge of honour for activists to be arrested while defending their causes. Dr. Sandra Steingraber has no less than two arrests and 18 days’ worth of jail time to mark her dedication to environmental causes. Steingraber’s latest fight is against the dirty business of fracking, which is devastating America’s farmlands and making countless citizens sick in the process. Director Chanda Chevannes follows this committed activist and teacher as she takes on the oil and gas companies while balancing her own personal struggles at home. Chevannes previously chronicled Steingraber’s work and activism in the 2010 documentary Living Downstream, and one the comfortable relationship and intimate access between the filmmaker and the subject lets Unfractured gets right into the action. Can an eco doc have a happy ending, though, when the battle against fracking is so tough? As Steinberger says, “The antidote to despair and cynicism is to fight with your whole heart.” The film is a great character study and a compelling, inspiring film for opening night.

24 Snow
When: Friday, Oct. 20 at the Revue at 6:30 PM

If temperatures of -40°C make Canadian winter seem intolerable, then one can only imagine living in a climate that dips below -70°. But that’s the reality for farmers like Sergei in the Arctic Russian territory of Yakutia who breed horses in an environment where the ground is almost always frozen. Despite the seemingly unforgivable weather, 24 Snow captures Yakutia in all its staggering beauty. Sumptuous cinematography and a vibrant score make this work of art a Russian cousin to KONELĪNE as the film provides a stirring portrait of a land and its inhabitants. This gorgeous film from director Mikhail Barynin shows how Sergei and his neighbours thrive despite the extreme elements and warm up to modern technology as they adapt their way of life to the south. 24 Snow screens at Planet in Focus as the recipient of the 2017 Green Film Network’s Green Vision Award.

24 Snow – Trailer VOSTFR from Collection Millenium on Vimeo.

When: Friday, Oct. 20 at Innis Town Hall at 5:00 PM

Blue travels the waters of the world and witnesses ‘ocean guardians’ in action as they work our oceans and the creatures within it. Director Karina Holden covers a variety of angles related to water pollution and the consequences that our actions have on the marine wildlife. The stories of the ocean guardians make these consequences relatable and personal because they provide up close perspectives to causes close to their hearts. The doc swims through coral reefs to observe the dwindling shark population and it puts viewers alongside guardians as they rescue birds from oil and plastic, including one powerful sequence that observes guardians as they help birds regurgitate shards of plastic swallowed in the ocean. Shots of autopsies, on the other hand, offer eye-opening images of the sheer volume of plastic being consumed by animals. These eco heroes provide access to the front lines of everyday eco crimes, such as a firsthand tour of a black market shark depot complete with on camera interviews with fishers who harvest sharks illegally. Blue combines an urgent visual power with the conviction of its subjects and delivers a compelling call to action.

Blue Trailer from Blue The Film on Vimeo.

When: Saturday, Oct. 21 at Miles Nadal JCC at 7:15 PM

Here’s an odd duck. Poached looks at the bizarre hobby of collecting the eggs of rare birds. The film gets access to the lives of egg collectors who share tricks of the trade and explain the high they get from hunting nests and stealing eggs. Director Timothy Wheeler also gives time to the authorities who pursue wildlife crimes and to the volunteers who protect birds and their nests. Poached is quite objective in its approach and there’s also a question of mental illness that arises with the egg collecting, so the film offers a peculiar case study in the perceived superiority that people have over non-human animals. The film also has a great sense of humour and runs with the strange elements of desire and obsession that echo in the hobby, as well as in the spirit of the activists eager to threat the egg hunters. Very, very strange, but in a good way.

4 Wheel Bob
When: Sunday, Oct. 22 at Innis Town Hall at 3:30 PM

The character study 4 Wheel Bob is bound to be an audience favourite at PiF. Bob Coomber is an avid outdoorsman who traverses rugged trails in his wheelchair and strives to climb as high as any able-bodied hiker can, if not higher. The film offers a strong message about connecting with nature through activity and recreation as Coomber extends his personal philosophy to lessons on physical activity and health that have direct relationships to the environment. (Ex: walking to the store versus driving.) 4 Wheel Bob is as notable as a doc about disabilities just as much as it is as an eco doc since it doesn’t fall into the awkward trope of depicting disability as something to ‘overcome.’ Coomber’s advocacy for accessible and functional trails also highlights a personal level of eco activism that one might take for granted, since questions of access rarely arise in the bumpy trails and nature hikes Canadians enjoy. Director Tal Skoot shows how Coomber’s passion for sports and recreation simply adapted to accommodate the changes in his health and mobility. The film is inspiring and buoyed by the upbeat spirit of its subject.

Planet in Focus runs Oct. 19-22. Visit Planet in Focus for more information.

(Stay tuned for more coverage!)