Vancouver’s largest film festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival, is set to begin today. With 300+ films showing over 16 days, and hundreds of volunteers coming together to make it happen, it’s no surprise that this time of year becomes the “what are you seeing at VIFF?” time of year.
If you’re looking to spend your $12 ticket price on something with a green lean, you’re in luck. This year is the 5th year that VIFF is presenting its Environmental Film Series, sponsored by WWF-Canada. Choose from 21 documentaries and films that take the viewer to “remote places for direct encounters with antiquated lifestyles and nature in the raw.”
Heaven and Earth, the theme of this year’s VIFF Environmental Film Series, collects stories that explore the admonishments destroying our planet and the beauty of nature that continues to inspire humankind. But all in all, “whatever your politics, certain kind of films take us out-of-doors in marvellous ways, leaving us to draw our own conclusions about how to better live our lives.”
Canadian Enviromental Doc Picks:
PEOPLE OF A FEATHER
Canada | Dir: Joel Heath | View Trailer
Employing astounding time-lapse photography captured over seven years, environmentalist Joel Heath illustrates how a remote Inuit community’s traditional way of life is being ravaged by climate change. As an increasingly volatile ecosystem lays waste to flocks of eider ducks, the people who rely upon the birds are left to wonder how they will survive.
SEEKING THE CURRENT
Canada | Dir: Nicolas Boisclair, Alexis de Gheldere | View Trailer
Directors Nicolas Boisclair and Alexis de Gheldere, together with Quebecois film star Roy Dupuis, take a scrupulous look at Hydro Quebec’s plan to construct dams along the Romaine River. This is a journey of dedication that goes beyond the critique to envision a better future for the land.
Canada | Dir: Charles Wilkinson
As Canada’s energy consumption grows, scientists, industry and government are making hard choices about how to feed it. Charles Wilkinson’s latest eye-opener is a concentrated look the harrowing costs of our technological affluence.
WAKING THE GREEN TIGER
Canada | Dir: Gary Marcuse
By declaring that nature must be conquered in the name of progress, Chairman Mao ushered in an era of environmental degradation for China. Now, passionate activists strive to preserve their natural wonders, educate their compatriots and encourage public debate. Gary Marcuse’s stirring documentary celebrates the brave souls at the forefront of China’s new revolution.
ON THE LINE
Canada | Dir: Frank Wolf | View Trailer
Director Frank Wolf’s low-tech journey from the Alberta Tar Sands to the B.C. coast traces the planned route for the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, highlighting the soon to be affected locals and the as yet unspoiled wilderness over which this environmentally heedless project looms.
Environmental documentaries from around the world:
BLOOD IN THE MOBILE
Denmark/Germany | Dir: Frank Piasecki Poulsen | View Trailer
Winner, Cinema for Peace Award for Justice, Berlin 2011.
In this fearless piece of investigative journalism, Frank Poulsen seeks to uncover the truth about the “blood minerals” that power our cell phones. Who are the real villains here: the ruthless henchman running the African mines or the cold-blooded suits turning a blind eye in Nokia’s corporate headquarters?
LETTERS FROM THE BIG MAN
USA | Dir: Christopher Munch | View Trailer
Nursing a broken heart in the wilds of Oregon, Sarah suspects that she’s not alone. Indeed, she’s acquired a particularly secret admirer: a soulful, reclusive Sasquatch. Utilizing this risky device, director Christopher Munch truly takes us out of doors for a profound and glorious meditation on the natural spirits of our Cascadia.
FLIRTING WITH HEIGHTS
France | Dir: Jean-Michel Bertrand | View Trailer
There have been many beautiful wildlife films, but few attain the virtuosity and poetry of Jean-Michel Bertrand’s monumental chronicle of the flora and fauna of the Swiss Alps. Bertrand worked solo for four patient years and the results are extraordinary.
THERE ONCE WAS AN ISLAND: TE HENUA E NNOHO
New Zealand/USA | Dir: Briar March | View Trailer
The inhabitants of a beautiful Micronesian atoll contend with the merciless effects of climate change in Briar March’s alarming documentary. With their island being regularly inundated by rising tides, these proud people must face the strong possibility of not only losing their homes but also their culture.
UK | Dir: Peter Gilbert
Jarvis Cocker, Leslie Feist, K.T. Tunstall, Martha Wainwright, Robyn Hitchcock, Laurie Anderson and Ryûichi Sakamoto are among the people featured in Peter Gilbert’s refreshingly different approach to raising awareness about climate change. Along with a group of scientists, these musicians go on an expedition to the high Arctic, and together we witness some unforgettable images and sounds.
Germany | Dir: Volker Sattel | View Trailer
In the double wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the German government’s decision to abandon nuclear energy by 2022, Volker Sattel’s cogent examination of the nuclear industry takes on ironies unimagined. Offering extraordinary inside access to nuclear plants in Germany and Austria, this is a film of significant aesthetic and informational achievement.
JOURNEY ON THE WILD COAST
USA | Dir: Greg Chaney | View Trailer
The antithesis of a boring vacation video! Using only a hand-held video camera, Greg Chaney documents two newlyweds’ ambitious bid to hike, paddle and ski from Seattle to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Their life-altering odyssey immerses them in Pacific Coast’s unparalleled beauty, but also leaves them at the mercy of nature’s sometimes cruel whims.
HEAVEN AND EARTH
Austria | Dir: Michael Pilz
An epic two-part documentary that “teaches you to see and hear things in a completely new way” (Ulrich Gregor), Michael Pilz’s classic examination of life in a mountain village in the Austrian state of Styria uses an open approach that allows for quiet rhythms and a transcendental accumulation of poetic detail.
BIG BLUE LAKE
Hong Kong | Dir: Jessey Tsang Tsui-Shan
Indie fiction films from HK are rare these days: a film as polished and moving as Jessey Tsang’s portrait of her home village is precious indeed. When Lai Yee returns home to her ailing mother, she uncovers family secrets, remembered loves, and buried yearnings. A meditation on disappearing history that’s graceful, melancholic and inspiring.
SUSHI: THE GLOBAL CATCH
Winner, Special Jury Prize, Seattle 2011.
USA | Dir: Mark Hall | View Trailer
Wide-ranging, thorough and fascinating on many levels, Mark Hall’s investigation into the past, present and future of the exploding sushi industry covers everything from the best sustainability practices worldwide to the seven-year apprenticeship that Japanese sushi chefs must undertake.
TWO YEARS AT SEA
UK | Dir: Ben Rivers
Acclaimed experimental filmmaker Ben Rivers’ first feature takes as its subject Jake, a hermit who lives in isolation in remote Scotland. The film documents Jake’s solitary existence, capturing moments of profound beauty as he passes the time with strange projects, living the radical dream he had as a younger man, a dream he spent two years working at sea to realize.
THE OTHER CALIFORNIANS
Mexico | Dir: César Talamantes
Shuttling us to the remote deserts of Mexico’s Baja California, César Talamantes introduces us to the “rancheros” who carve out a hardscrabble existence there. While the arid vistas are decidedly striking, it’s the evocative images of these “untamed hooligans” at work and in repose that lend this documentary its rough-hewn beauty.
IT’S THE EARTH NOT THE MOON
Portugal | Dir: Gonçalo Tocha | View Trailer
Winner, Special Mention, Filmmakers of the Present, Locarno 2011.
Take a trip with Gonçalo Tocha to Corvo, the smallest island in the Azores, a self-sustaining place of mystery, superstition and fantastic natural scenery. Over three years Tocha set out to be Corvo’s contemporary social historian, and the result is just about the warmest film you’ll ever see.
YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED
UK | Dir: Anthony Baxter | View Trailer
Winner, Green Award (best environmental film), Sheffield 2011.
In this all-too-real David vs. Goliath drama, a few Scottish farmers find themselves in the way of bragging and bullying Donald’s Trump’s plans for developing the “world’s top golf resort” on ecologically fragile coastal sand dunes near Aberdeen. Documentarian Anthony Baxter offers us a stirring example of principled resistance, but asks if, in fact, Goliaths lose. Music by Sigur Rós’ Jónsi.
TASTE THE WASTE
Germany | Dir: Valentin Thurn | View Trailer
Valentin Thurn’s timely and startling documentary on global food waste (did you know that on the way from the farm to the dining-room table, more than half of all food ends up in the garbage?) is both a call to arms and a how-to for doing our best to eliminate this major problem.
LIFE ABOVE THE CLOUDS—A FAIRY-TALE VALLEY IN THE CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS
Germany/Italy | Dir: Titus Faschina
Life Above the Clouds is a marvelous series made for European television that we are inspired to present on the big screen. We will screen four of the five series sections, all of which take us to remarkable locations on the European continent where humans have managed, through perseverance and in a most impressive manner, to establish themselves “above the clouds,” despite all temptations of a simpler life further down below.
For more about VIFF or for a full schedule, visit www.viff.org.