Cinema for Saving the Environment By Shahla Nahid

in 26th Reykjavik International Film Festival

by Shahla Nahid

In the cinema, like in life, one fashion or, more exactly, one concern follows another. Thus cinema has always been the mirror of the society and this will not change. So, after the era of films on the war in Iraq during past years, came the time for another major concern: the environment. Therefore, we are witnessing every day the upcoming of a huge number of documentary films dealing with all aspects of our seriously threatened environment: climate, food and nature. This, of course, does not mean that the subject is forgotten in fiction films and Hollywood films have long favored “save the world” scenarios. I will get back to it later.

This formidable production of documentary films could not leave festivals indifferent and the 5th Reykjavik International film festival was not an exception and had created, this year, a whole section with eleven films directed by American, Canadian, German and East European documentary filmmakers. They all showed the increasing concern about our seriously threatened environment, the fragility of the ecosystem and problems linked to water.

For example, The Whispering of the Trees (El susurru de los árboles) by Tom Lemke from Germany showed a tribe living in southern Chile which drags its name from a tree, Pehuenche (pine nut), which is the fruit of the Aruacana tree. This particular fruit kept the people of this tribe alive for many centuries. But today civilization has invaded the Pehuenche community and their way of life has changed. Somehow the people still fight to keep their culture alive.

Fridge by Czech director Lucie Stamfestova shows the consequences of a neglect of a man who forgets to close his fridge. This cause changes in the micro climate inside. Everything spoils and dries up. Cans explode and meld spreads all over the place. Lucie Stamfestova, shows, in a seven-minute film, the whole metaphor about the green house effect.

In Search of a Legend (W poszukiwani legendy) by Polish director Konstanty Kulik chose to show a sail across the arctic. More than their adventure, it was their encounter with various interesting people who fight for their livelihood according to their own rules which draws attention. Inuits who send their children to hunt seals for food during the day and at night — the same children play games on their computer.

Through these examples, one can conclude that while cinema tries to sound warning bells, it is not always the place where practical solutions are given. About Water: People and Yellow Cans by Udo Maurer from Austria took us, through the surrealist ship, to deserts of Kazakhstan, the floating towns of Bangladesh and the narrow streets of Nairobi and showed how water shapes life on earth. In Bangladesh the major concern is to combat invading water, around the Aralsk area in Kazakhstan people fight to keep water from disappearing and in Nairobi the struggle goes on for a few drops of clean drinking water.

At the beginning I briefly mentioned the existence of fiction films which dealt with environmental subjects. The best example at the Reykjavik International film festival “New Visions” category was Home by Ursula Meier. In this film we witness how the life of a happy family turns to a nightmare because of a noisy environment. The filmmaker goes deep down into the inner world of each character and shows the evolution of restlessness. This is a film not only for film critics but for everybody.

One thing is for sure, the aim of all these films is to increase our awareness about the relationship between man and the environment, the safeguard of the territory, vanishing forests, water, identity and fight against irreversible changes which are in process. They also tend to inspire us to take action. The main question arises then: has cinema ever contributed to changing our mentality?

While the poorest people in the world suffer from the effects of the eco-crisis and the rich find always the way to protect themselves and earn more money by destroying the environment with the benediction of rulers, what can cinema do?

Given the fact that the film production depends on money and capitalist systems in search of profits, who is going to seriously invest on these sorts of films? Al Gore’s documentary excluded. In his case also this question comes up: Why when he was the Vice-president of the United States didn’t he do anything for ratifying the Kyoto treaty?