POV Picks for Planet in Focus
By Pat Mullen
The world might be burning up and approaching its expiry date, but the silver lining to the impending environmental disaster is that it makes for great docs. This year’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival comes to Toronto with an extra dose of urgency now that the United Nations has official sounded the alarm while several of Canada’s premiers act as if gas is still 23 cents a litre and a little melting of the ice caps never hurt anyone.
The festival approaches the world of environmental concern from all angles, focusing not only on the obvious ecological aspects of sustainability, but also on the social, political, and human rights aspects intricately connected within the systems of power and control affecting the planet. There are great stories of hope to be found, like tonight’s opening night kick-off of Youth Unstoppable (at the Royal at 6:30pm) or Friday’s screening of Beyond Climate with David Suzuki in attendance (7:00pm at Hot Docs Cinema). There’s also the premiere of the acclaimed Brexitannia (Saturday at 7:00pm at Innis Town Hall), which focuses on the Brexit debate from the perspectives of everyday Brits who voted to remain in the European Union as well as those who opted to leave it, while intellectuals chime in on the implications and consequences of this radical decision. (Read more about Brexitannia in the current issue of POV.)
On the Canadian front, doc fans can catch the new film from directors Peter Mettler and Emma Davie with Becoming Animal (Saturday, 9:30pm at Innis Town Hall), which Jill Glessing called “jarring” in the POV review of the film. You can also read more about Becoming Animal and PiF selections Sharkwater Extinction and Rodents of Unusual Size in Michael John Long’s essay The Epoch Films of the Anthopocene The closing night selection offers Ground War by Toronto filmmaker Andrew Nisker, who takes a deeply personal study on the harmful impact of pesticides in green spaces in which our children and family play day by day. (Stay tuned for an interview with Nisker!)
There’s a lot to see here in the busy festival running from October 25 to 28. To help guide readers through the programme, here are five POV picks for this year’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival beyond the great films noted above. (But, frankly, everything on the menu is worth a ticket.)
Friday Oct. 26 2018 9:00pm, Al Green Theatre
Yakutia lore advises against disturbing the remains of woolly mammoths. Brothers Peter and Semyon Grigorieve, however, hunt their native lands in search of the animals’ remains. Peter, a man of tradition, seeks tusks for the lucrative black market. Semyon, a man of science, pursues mammoth blood with hopes of bringing the extinct creature back to life. This globetrotting Sundance award winner explores the compatibility of faith and science as the brothers approach their quests with opposing belief systems. The doc brings the biggest gross-out moment of PiF with a scene that involves the discovery a well-preserved body of a mammoth that contains liquid blood and viable tissue fibre. despite the animal being dead for 10,000 years. (We won’t spoil the surprise!) Stirring music by Max Richter and Edward Artemyev makes the journey emotionally and intellectually compelling, while an expert team of cinematographers captures every chill of the tundra. This philosophically profound film has echoes of Werner Herzog in the depth and scope of its inquiry. After what happened in Jurassic Park, is it good science to play God with the dead?
Point of No Return
Saturday Oct. 27 2018 1:00pm, Innis Town Hall
In what could make for a great double bill with Genesis 2.0, Point of No Return finds a compelling tale of ambition and endurance as two men approach the same task from different backgrounds and with different philosophies. This exciting adventure witnesses two daring pilots, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, who lead a team to develop a solar powered airplane. Piccard, a psychiatrist and balloonist, and Borschberg, an engineer and jet fighter pilot, approach aviation with different styles and daring-dos, but their goal is the same: to harness the power of the sun and fly their prototype airplane around the world. The film shows the challenges of testing and developing new transportation, which provides some great drama when members of the team differ in their assessments of the situation, like a climactic five-day flight across the Pacific that requires perfectly calculated flight paths around the brewing storms to ensure the plane is properly recharged throughout the run. The lesson is one of taking risks, innovating, and embracing new challenges to create a better tomorrow.
Welcome to Sodom
Saturday Oct. 27 2018 3:00pm, Al Green Theatre
Get ready for an eye-opening portrait on the scale of human wastefulness. Welcome to Sodom takes audiences to an island in Ghana that is the final destination for most consumer electronic waste on the planet. The sheer volume of trash is staggering and the doc invites comparison to Jennifer Baichwal’s Manufactured Landscapes with its eye-opening compositions. The film shows the people who live and work on the island as they collect refuse, like scrap metal, to make a living. There are compelling human rights issues embedded within the stories they tell in voiceover, like the narration of a Gambian man who says that it’s better to live on an island of trash where he is protected by anonymity, rather than be back home where he may be persecuted for being gay. Welcome to Sodom is one of the most visually compelling choices at PiF, making it a great option for audiences who are looking for something more cinematically inclined. I feel like I breathed in enough carcinogens to take years off my life just watching it.
Saturday Oct. 27 2018 5:45pm, Al Green Theatre
Liz Marshall, director of the popular and acclaimed environmental documentaries The Ghosts in Our Machine and Water on the Table, returns with Midian Farm. This intensely personal film sees Marshall revisit a scene from her past as she returns home to Midian Farm, a communal ranch on which her parents raised her. The doc looks at this site that aspired to a utopian idealism of back to the Earth sustainability where people escaped the rat race and lived in harmony. Marshall uncovers an extensive array of archival material and reconnects with many of the farm’s members as she learns about the challenges of starting a new social order from scratch. None of these young people knew what they were doing, but as the capitalism continues to prove ineffective and the need to change our ways becomes more urgent, the film asks we can learn from the failings of Midian Farm and find common ground with utopian ideals.
Sunday Oct. 28 2018 4:00pm, Innis Town Hall
Any film festival these days would be incomplete without a Trump film. The inept world leader fuelled his presidential campaign with the xenophobic promise to build a border wall between the USA and Mexico, but while many us rolled our eyes and said that would never happen, audiences might be surprised to see the full scale of the wall’s impracticality. The Wall takes audiences to the site of Trump’s proposed security perimeter and considers the environmental consequences the wall would have on ecological, social, and economical factors. The doc tours the borderland, particularly the Rio Grande river, and shows with with beautiful cinematography how the waterways, deserts, canyons, etc. form a natural border through which few humans could survive a journey. As the film notes the impact of the wall on animal migration patterns, human activity, and urban development, The Wall gives voice to people in both the USA and Mexico from various political viewpoints. Whereas Trump seeks to divide people, the doc portrays a sense of community.
Planet in Focus runs from Oct. 25 to Oct. 28.
Visit PlanetinFocus.org for more information.