‘Youth Unstoppable’, ‘When Lambs Become Lions’ Lead Planet in Focus Award Winners

When Lambs Become Lions

By Pat Mullen

Slater Jewell-Kemker’s documentary Youth Unstoppable bookended Toronto’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival this weekend. The film, which was PiF’s opening night gala, won the prize for Best Canadian Feature in the awards handed out Sunday night. Jewell-Kemker’s doc is an inspiring portrait of the youth movement as a new generation of activists mobilizes to fight climate change. The film drew an emotional response from environmental icon David Suzuki when it premiered Thursday night at the Royal.

The Canadian feature film jury gave an honourable mention to Liz Marshall’s Midian Farm. The doc is a personal essay by Marshall as she reflects upon the communal farm that her parents founded with friends in hopes of creating a utopian alternative to fast-paced society. Many of the farm’s former members were in the house for the film’s premiere on Saturday, which was a festival highlight for providing such a touching reunion.

When Lambs Become Lions, directed by Jon Kasbe, won the festival’s prize for Best International Feature. The jury called this portrait of a Kenyan poacher/gamekeeper “luminous and gripping.” The film has been a hit on the festival circuit with critics praising its juxtaposition of Kenya’s natural beauty with the ugly realities of economic necessity that devastate the local environment.

On the shorts front, Farhan Umedaly’s Sun on Top of the House and Eric Daniel Metzgar’s A Film about Animals (for my children to watch when they are older) won the prizes for Canadian short and international short, respectively. The former is a portrait of British Columbia’s Haida community as members harness the power of the sun for solar energy. The latter is a powerfully intimate documentary told in the form of a letter as the filmmaker goes to the front lines of the illegal poaching trade and encourages his children to be better guardians of the planet than their elders were.

The Green Pitch Prize went to Hannah Donegan and Ann Shin for their project The New Black Gold. The doc looks at new innovations in sustainable resources as experts research the opportunity to transform human waste into energy. The Green Pitch awards Donegan and Shin with $25,000 in production support sponsored by Eggplant Picture & Sound, Muskoka North Film Studios, SIM International, William F. White, Dynamix Solutions, Pie in the Sky Studios, The Source Shop, Duncan Morin, Trinity Square Video, Supergroup Sonic Branding, and Daniela Ponce Publicity. Shin also debuted the feature-length cut of her new doc The Superfood Chain at the festival. The doc is currently streaming on TVO.

The Mark Haslman Award, named for PiF’s founder, was awarded to Juan Pablo Ortíz Tallavas’s El Taco Mazahua, entre el oro verde y la monarca. The short documentary highlights the efforts of Indigenous farmers seeking to restore the monarch butterfly population at Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Preserve.

The festival’s previously announced eco hero awards were given to Canadian zoologist/author Anne Innis Dagg and American environmentalist Dr. John Francis.