There’s a festival of festivals in Toronto this month. On the environmental front, Planet in Focus returns for its 22nd edition with a mix of theatrical and virtual screenings to inspire audiences to look closer at our relationship with the natural world. The festival kicks off tonight with the opening night screening of Forest for the Trees, directed by Rita Leistner, at stackt market. The festival features a doc-heavy slate of films including award winners from the circuit, emerging Canadian voices to watch, and new films from doc veterans like Werner Herzog. PiF often gets political (when is an environmental film not?), but there’s ample poetry to be found at the festival, too, as filmmakers take experimental approaches that harness the visual power of the natural wonders they explore. Here are some highlights screening at this year’s festival:
Forest for the Trees: The Tree Planters
Dir. Rita Leistner
Thursday, October 13 at 6:00pm | stackt market
Photographer/filmmaker Rita Leistner puts one of her personal approaches to environmentalism under the lens: tree planting! PiF’s opener Forest for the Trees is a visually striking portrait of the many hands who head into the wilderness each year to rejuvenate the forest. Tree planting isn’t for everyone, as it’s a lonely affair that involves long hours of isolation and physically demanding labour, but the film highlights how its effects are therapeutic both for the land and for us. Forest for the Trees benefits from Leistner’s eye behind the camera. It elevates the tree planters through vivid images, which earned a Canadian Screen Award nomination for cinematography. Fans who like what they see can pick up a companion photo book for Forest for the Trees for their coffee tables.
The Fire Within: A Requiem for Maurice and Katia Krafft
Dir. Werner Herzog
Friday, October 14 at 9:30pm | Paradise Theatre
Any fans of Fire of Love reading the pages of POV? The story of volcanologists Maurice Krafft and Katia Krafft fuels a second documentary this year, from none other than doc icon Werner Herzog. The director is no stranger to their work after his earlier volcano doc Into the Inferno. The Fire Within is the Infamous to Fire of Love’s Capote or, in volcano terms, the Volcano to Dante’s Peak. While Herzog’s portrait of the volcanologists/filmmakers has been overshadowed by Sara Dosa’s Krafftwork with Fire of Love, it also draws upon the subjects’ amazing range of archival footage. It’s always a fascinating novelty to see two auteurs tackle the same subject very differently. The Fire Within might open new angles to the wonders of the Kraffts with Herzog’s typical voiceover musings, or it might reinforce the poetic magic of Dosa’s approach. Either way, watch it for yourself to see the complementary nature of these two docs – and take any excuse you can to see these volcanoes explode on the big screen!
Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence
Dir. Ali Kazimi
Saturday, October 15 at 3:00pm | Paradise Theatre
Catch the hometown premiere of Ali Kazimi’s doc 25 years in the making as PiF screens Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence. The film is the result of a 1995 encounter that Kazimi had with members of the Sinixt tribe as they began a process to reclaim their land. Kazimi situates the struggle within the colonial erasure of Indigenous land rights and stolen territories, as well as the environmental devastation that the land faces under settler exploitation. “Beyond Extinction is also a beautiful film in its own way—not just for the shots of the stunning lakes, mountains and forest that make up Sinixt territory, but also for the very struggle it captures,” wrote Paloma Pacheco while reviewing the film during DOXA. “The commitment the small group of Sinixt activists clearly feel to protecting their land, culture, and collective history, and the resilience required to do so, is stirring. Watching Elders gather around the small occupation camp they’ve run for decades to celebrate and make food for legal fundraisers can only be called an act of love, beauty, and defiance. Kazimi’s film clearly called on this same spirit in its making and deserves to be widely seen.”
Eulogy for the Dead Sea
Dir. Polina Teif
Saturday, October 15 at 7:00pm | Paradise Theatre
Audiences looking for something on the experimental side, or perhaps intrigued by the interplay of photography and film in Forest for the Trees, might want to catch Polina Teif’s feature Eulogy for the Dead Sea. The film is a companion piece to her photo series of the same name and observes the loss of water in the Dead Sea. Teif considers the environmental fallout that occurs when the Earth’s ecosystem becomes a political weapon. Evocative still frames show a landscape in a startling state of change. “The southern part of the Dead Sea has been developed into a series of shallow evaporation pools,” Teif told Creative Boom in an interview on the series. “The water from the Northern Basin is pumped into the Southern Basin through a tunnel into shallow segmented parts which begin with an array of hotels and spas developed for tourism and end with the Dead Sea Works in Sodom, the ancient hallmark city of sin in the old testament and the Koran which is home to the largest mineral extraction factory in Israel.”
Geographies of Solitude
Dir. Jacquelyn Mills
Sunday, October 16 at 7:00pm | Paradise Theatre
Catch a Toronto encore of one of the best Canadian documentaries of the year as POV co-presents Geographies of Solitude at this year’s festival. The film returns after winning Best Canadian Feature at Hot Docs. Director Jacquelyn Mills takes a poetic and experimental approach to telling the story of researcher Zoe Lucas and her lifetime of work on Sable Island. Mills harnesses the power of the island’s landscape, as well as elements of Lucas’s research, like horse dung and soil, as part of the process for developing the film in an environmentally friendly way. “The inspiration was ‘How can the natural world make a film? How can I draw from as many elements in the natural world as I could think of to create a film?’” Mills told Megan Durnford in an interview at Hot Docs. “I was quite impressed by how many actually turned out, when you process with organics you would think it would be pretty unstable. Also, I was splicing real-life elements to film…There was a lot of serendipity and a lot of searching for more ways to explore the many layers of the subject matter in this place because I am so impressed with Zoe’s commitment to the natural world that I was trying to find as many ways as possible to honour that.”
Email us at [email protected] if you want tickets to see Geographies of Solitude at Planet in Focus!