Archive for July 2012

Environmental Film Fest – Mini Catalog Reviews   Leave a comment

Bovines  (2011, France, 62 min.) 4/5 out of 5 – Heading into the film I was a bit skeptical as to how a cohesive story could be woven from just shots of cows grazing. I was very pleasantly surprised however. The film was entertaining and endearing, shots of the cows really engaged the audience and made it emotional rather than just a film you’d watch in science class. Despite a total lack of dialogue, captions or really words of any type not counting the occasionally yell of a farmer a clear message was sent. Cows care for their young, they have emotions, and cows just aren’t as simple as we all think. The filmmaker sent that message with some of the best cinematography that I have experienced thus far in terms of creating emotion. Not only were the shot’s beautiful but they were arranged so effectively that they created a wordless story that even a young child could understand. The use of close-ups in this work is astounding, shots of eyes, noses and tails not only work to give you the true bovine experience but also portray the emotions driving this film. Due to the somewhat abstract nature of the film I am unsure as to where exactly it could be used. It doesn’t take a stance on an issue or particularly relate itself to any broad category. I guess it could be placed in an event about animals or agriculture or farm life. Of the films I watched I feel like this most closely relates to Eating Alabama. Although the style of filmmaking is incredibly different from film to film, they are closely linked in my mind because they give you a much better idea where that steak you are eating comes from. It highlights the realities behind food and agriculture. Beautiful camera work and strong narrative structure make this a very solid entry.

Drought (2011, Mexico, 84 min.) 3 out of 5I a going to preface this review by saying that the labels on the top and bottom of this film that remain from beginning to bitter end take a serious toll on the films dramatic impact. It is almost impossible to think of it as a feature film, it seems more like a special you would see on network TV. In comparison to the other films I watched this week the cinematography was shaky, often without a clear intent, and grainy in appearance. Shots linger where they shouldn’t, sometimes are poorly chosen and wouldn’t translate well to a large screen due to the poor visual quality. It is an interesting idea to start with. The inhospitable environment of the Mexican desert, the hard people who have battled that environment for years and how they manage to keep smiling is a compelling narrative. This narrative however is bungled by poor character development and narrative structure. Unlike taking the stories of several key characters and developing them to truly endear and engage the audience this film bounces around in what seems like a totally random fashion. It makes no point at all other than that life is hard, and it is not structured effectively enough to purely be a “day-in-the-life” style film. Despite all of this the film does address a very specific issue and if the audience was chosen correctly this film could be effective. It would most certainly have to be a small venue due to the quiet nature and poor film quality. Similarly rather than being a feature film I would categorize this more as informational, the poor narrative structure really hurts the dramatic impact of this film and it does not have the flash or the intrigue to compensate for that.

Children of The Tsunami – The always-powerful and devastatingly simple words of children are utilized to near perfection in this film. Made by BBC affiliate it is of high production quality. The use of traditional narration adds key structure and information cues to the film, and the interviews with the children most certainly do the rest. The filmmaker also utilized stock footage and photographs to give perspective and reality to the stories of the children. As one might expect it was touching and emotional, only children could remain so happy in the face of such desolation. I would place this as a concluding piece in an environmental pollution piece or in a special on the Tsunami. This film leaves such a strong emotional impression that it is a good note to end on and would leave the audience stunned. Quality filmmaking, little kids and an environmental tragedy make for compelling movies that much is for sure. (4.5)

Bidder 70 – The first 15 minutes of this film made me think it was going to be a knockout. The story of Tim Dechristopher is such an interesting one; he is a brave man with a compelling tale to tell. However I feel the film could’ve executed the story in a much more effective and dramatic fashion. The most interesting part of the film centers around Tim Dechristopher but rather than focusing on him and fleshing out his background and what truly makes him tick, the filmmaker bounced around. Shamelessly plugging an organization known as Peaceful Uprising I couldn’t tell if the filmmaker had chosen to tell Decristopher’s story because it was interesting, or if Decristopher had hired a film crew himself in order to try and bolster some support. I also think it could have been condensed. It is still a powerful story and it is still most certainly a strong film but it suffered from a bit of narrative ADD. Despite its shortcomings however this film is definitely feature quality, it tells an inspiring story in a manner clear enough to appreciate. The drama played out by Dechristopher and the trial to decide his future is quality stuff. (4)

Among Giants – This film was only 13 minutes long but I was it was 120. Advanced narrative structure, beautiful cinematography and a unique perspective make this film one of my favorites thus far. The film is driven by shots of nature, and is narrated by of one of the Tree Sitters currently taking a stand against logging in California. It had an almost poetic feeling and leaves the viewer with several superb visuals to hold on to. It is vague in a good way, it would be a great introductory piece to something like Eating Alabama or perhaps Bidder 70 that also deal with taking a stand and alternatives ways of life. I loved this film. It played out in a dramatic and cinematic fashion that combined the intrigue of the issue with a palpable drama. This film is of genuinely high quality; my only regret is that it isn’t longer. (5)

Eating Alabama – Eating Alabama was a great look into the issue of sustainability, in a Morgan-Spurlock like fashion. It is refreshingly honest and very relatable to a wide audience. The nature of the film is feature-like, and it could easily be the centerpiece of an event as it tells quite the engaging story. I was surprised first and foremost with how unbiased it was, the filmmaker was not pushing a specific cause he was simply trying to illustrate what true sustainability looks like. He allowed the genuine nature of his approach and the realities of modern food culture to take precedence over bias and that was the films biggest triumph. Apart from that he also told a very personal story that endeared and engaged the audience on a personal level. This film is surprisingly moving and effectively constructed. This film garners a sense of community rarely achieved. (4.5)

E-wasteland – This film is a dialogue and plot free look at the desolation and pollution occurring in Ghana due to the illegal exportation and dumping of supposed “second hand goods”. Large industrialized nations export their e-waste (the byproducts of outdated electronics and computers) into countries such as Ghana. Then this waste is scavenged and broken down by hand, and often burned, in order for the few valuable scraps of metal to be exposed and then sold by the people of Ghana. This process is not only unethical on the part of the companies dumping the waste, but also detrimental to the environment and to the health of those in Ghana who work to reclaim e-waste. All in all the film has some compelling and enlightening shots not only of the true filth that results from e-waste but also the hardships that accompany trying to reclaim it. It was an interesting preview into the topic of e-waste but the lack of character development and other narrative structures make it a bit repetitive by the end, and it is only 20 minutes long… (2.5)

Nuclear Nation – This film is a piece that should without doubt be used as the main entry for an event. As a feature length film it is one of the more cohesively made and emotionally charged films in the non-fiction genre that I have seen, even outside the context of EFF. The set up and construction of the films narrative is superb. Just enough background with just enough variety, switching between more personal interviews and scenes coupled with real footage to make for non-stop audience engagement. The filmmaker also selected and developed excellent characters within the film. Rather than having brief interviews or captions the director made it a point to take time with each character to truly illustrate them to the audience and the film benefitted from that. It was gripping and emotional, but also oddly inspiring and uplifting. For a people mired in a disaster far beyond reckoning their outlook makes even the stonehearted feel at least a little something. One of my favorites (5)

Elemental – This Film is an intricately woven multi-part narrative that focuses on three environmental activists. Each activist is unique and their methods vary widely, however throughout the film you realize that each of the main characters are actually very closely linked. They are each linked by their passion that is what I believe is the common “element” if you will, that is explored in this piece. It is a great mix of facts and analysis with character study, these two things in balance manage to simultaneously educate and enthrall the audience. It was a very well thought out film because despite there being three storylines going on at once the film still manages to flow and remain cohesive. The cinematic effect of wildlife shots in this film was nothing short of stunning. This is definitely feature quality and could be placed in any event that has to do with environmental activism and the like. Genuinely thought provoking and easy on the eye to boot. (4.5)

The Nature of Frederic Back – is an informative biopic piece about the life of a pioneer in the field of animation. It would be however a stretch to claim that this is a wholly environmental film. Although Frederic was most certainly an environmental activist, this is not the focus of the film. It is a more about his art and his upbringing that it is about the environment. It is a wonderful story and Frederic Back is most certainly an endearing character but it could be tough to place this film in an event because it is kind of off topic. Unless the focus was on French artists or the origins of environmental messages in children’s media I would hesitate to label this film as relevant. It is also a bit on the slow side; it reads somewhat like a history book. This would be an excellent selection for an educational film to play in a college art class but it does not have the draw or pizazz to be the focus of a screening. A wonderful man, a touching story, but this movie is unfortunately a bit off topic. (2.5)

Stuff Everywhere – unfortunately falls much in the same category of film as The Nature of Frederic Back, the only difference being that this entry was much less endearing. This film is basically the self-shot autobiography of a Dutch woman who suddenly realizes she has too much stuff. This realization leads her down a somewhat unnerving and obsessive path that ends with her categorizing and labeling absolutely everything that her family of three owns. This movie is more a statement about the consumerist nature of western culture – we have a lot of stuff, too much stuff, and we keep getting more stuff. The filmmakers could have made this point much more clearly and succinctly at the beginning of the film and saved us all some time. This film also lacked a sense of humor that could have made it quirky and fun rather than slightly disturbing. It is however incredibly unique and thus would have some serious drawing power, people would want to see it purely for the sake of novelty. This film was weird and in my opinion somewhat pointless. It was a commentary on economics and the consumer mindset, but the way in which this statement was made was roundabout and odd. I cannot dispute however that this film would most certainly have an audience. (3.5)

Coal Yard – Maybe I am just becoming partial to the brief and poetic nature of short films but Coal Yard was another very solid entry. It was reminiscent of both Bovines and Among Giants, but it seemed to take only the strengths. Because it was so short each shot held significance without overdoing it. So much of the “coal yard-feel” was transferred in such a short time. Truly remarkable. Good camerawork and use of sound. Shots of jet black coal, black tires, and black puddles on the ground make this film feel like a dark poem of sorts. This film really should be named “an ode to the color black”. It would be a great introductory piece due to its short length and ability to get an audience thinking, this film is like an artistic warm up lap that readies the audience for the marathon of films to follow. Good Stuff (4.5)

Fish Meat – is an insightful look into the newest frontier as far as sustainable food practices are concerned. It takes an in depth look at what farmed fish really means for the environment, and what we as the consumer don’t know about the process itself. It has a very simple yet effective narrative structure. Interviews and narration interspersed with actual shots allow for both context and intrigue. It shows how the fish farming process actually requires more over-fishing to be effective, and it shows how much the transportation of fish and fish feed can really impact the environment. It is straightforward and understandable. For the entire 30-minute run-time this film manages to both keep the audiences attention and inform them adequately on an issue, which in this industry is high praise. It is much like a shortened and less depressing version of Food Inc. It is both informative and engaging. (4)

Snow in Paradise – the very same company that produced Whakatiki made this film. The lightning in a bottle that they captured in that film was almost certainly lost on this one. Although the film begins with the same warm and endearing style of story telling it ends with an odd twist and bad special effects. The early shots are still very well chosen and it still has a high production value but the ending was just poorly executed. One thing it does have in common with Whakatiki is that it is not particularly on topic. All in all the use of unnatural special effects and a divergence from the organic style of storytelling witnessed in Whakatiki leaves an audience wanting more. I can see the story they were trying to tell but it was just the way in which they told it that was disappointing. NZ shorts just should have stuck to what they are good at. (3)

La Source -This film follows the story more of a man than it does follow the premise of environmental action. Regardless however this film still manages to win over the audience with strong filmmaking and an inspirational story at it’s core. You can tell that the production value must have been high due to the quality of the shots and because Don Cheadle is narrating. It follows the life of a one José Lajeunesse who is a Haitian immigrant who now resides in the U.S. His day-to-day life on its own is inspiring but it is the purification of his hometown’s water source that has the power to move even your crankiest of in-laws. It is of feature quality without doubt. It does focus more on the man than it seems to focus on the environment, but it certainly ties into the theme of rivers, making it an a versatile and applicable choice. It cost some money to make, and you can tell. (That’s a good thing) A great story told in a way that doesn’t mess it up. (4.5)

Betting The Farm – This film is a rarity in several ways. First off, it is a moderately uplifting environmental film (that in its own right is praiseworthy). Secondly, it manages to engage the audience for almost the entire film despite its long run time. Generally I am a fan of enviro film that is direct. The longer you clog up a films arteries with talking heads and extraneous character studies, the worse it gets. This film manages to avoid doing both of those things while simultaneously giving the audience a wonderful snapshot of the Maine farming community. It is both of feature quality and of feature length. It had a high production value and was a wholly well-executed piece of film making. It is also versatile in terms of age group and venue. It is simple enough that younger audiences can understand it and it is also inspirational enough to be placed in a variety of thematic categories. This film could very easily be the meat and potatoes of a film screening, I like the story and the film’s direction speaks for itself. (4.5)

Whakatiki – Although this film uses nature as a mechanism to broadcast meaning I wouldn’t put it firmly in the environmental film category per se. It plays like a very short feature film. Every shot is well chosen and imparts a surprising amount of detail, little details and inference are used to perfection. It almost reads like the last 13 minutes of a very good drama, not an enviro film. It was heart warming, well acted and simple. It would be a great intro or conclusion to a set of films because not only does it pique the audience’s interest in the joy/wonder associated with rivers, but also it has strong emotional takeaways that would make a strong final impression. If placed well I think this film could be an excellent addition to a film festival. (4)

Terra Blight – was one of the more engaging feature films that I had the privilege to watch this summer. The film was built upon a very strong foundation, both the video quality and the editing of the film made me feel like I was watching a Hollywood blockbuster, not an enviro film. This film is in essence E-wasteland’s big brother, a big brother that is far superior in every way. It focuses on the byproducts of the technology industry that are polluting African nations and several places here in the U.S. It is drawing attention to a largely unknown problem and the shock factor of that really adds to the effect of the film. The filmmaker used a great mix of shot styles, from created and edited slides with captions to haunting footage of e-waste. It did a great job not only illuminating an issue that for the most part has remained unnoticed, but also managed to do so comprehensively. It was a wholly inclusive and very engaging study of an issue that was easy on the eyes and creative in terms of narrative structure. (4.5)

Baka: A Cry From the Rainforest – reminded me of a film I would watch in a college class, and I mean that as a compliment. This film was made with the sort of calm narration and in-depth character study that reminds me of a national geographic special event. The films does an excellent job of plunging the audience deeper and deeper into the world of the Baka. The tribal lifestyle and the realities of the wilderness come to the forefront of this film and it becomes almost a drama of sorts. A great story complimented by a very patient and all-inclusive style of filmmaking. It does seem almost more like an exercise in anthropology than it does seem like your garden-variety enviro issue film. The environment however is impossible to ignore and forms the backdrop for the entire film, this movie shows nature rather than just talking about it and there is something to be said for that. The only hindrance that I would say this film encounters is its length; it would have to be a feature or maybe an entire event in itself. Despite its length it still manages to be intriguing. Well made, in depth, and if placed well with the right audience it could be a very rewarding experience. (4) BD – Baka: A Cry From the Rainforest reminded me of a film I would watch in a college class, and I mean that as a compliment. This film was made with the sort of calm narration and in-depth character study that reminds me of a national geographic special event. The films does an excellent job of plunging you deeper and deeper into the world of the Baka. The tribal lifestyle and the realities of the wilderness come to the forefront of this film and it becomes almost a drama of sorts. A great story with a very patient and all-inclusive style of filmmaking. It does seem almost more like an exercise in anthropology than it does seem like your garden-variety enviro issue film. The environment however is impossible to ignore and forms the backdrop for the entire film, this movie shows nature rather than just talking about it and there is something to be said for that. The only hindrance that I would say this film encounters is its length; it would have to be a feature or maybe an entire event in itself. Despite its length it still manages to be intriguing. Well made, in depth, and if placed well with the right audience it could be a very rewarding experience. (4)

Beijing Besieged By Waste – I want to preface this somewhat scathing review by saying this, given the fact that this man seemed to make this film almost entirely by himself in communist china I still believe that his film is worthy of recognition and could have a positive effect if placed in the right event. Beyond that I thought that this film was lacking. It had poor film quality; it wasn’t intriguing to the eye at all. It dragged on, it was incredibly long and although the filmmakers point was made quite clearly by the end nobody cared at that point due to the monotony. Full of repetitive shots, and a slow and confusing narrative structure this film was basically like watching the same few scenes over and over again. I admit I was shocked and disturbed by the amount of landfills around Beijing, but not shocked and disturbed in a way that made me want to keep watching, just shocked and disturbed in a way that made me want to turn the movie off. Finally the use of Google maps seemed like a bit of a repetitive and lazy filmmaking tactic that got on my nerves. A for effort, 2.5 for EFF. (2.5)


Wind of Change – is a stereotypical example of my style of enviro film, succinct and engaging, to the point but in a way that packs a punch, that way the audience leaves with a message rather than with a headache. Every minute in this film seemed crucial to the narrative, that is very high praise. It was a good mix of deep emotional character study and environmental issues. Despite being seemingly bleak at times this film, due in large part to the indomitably happy family is focuses on, this film is uplifting and inspiring. Truly feel good stuff. It also does a great job of incorporating self-shot footage and testimonials that allow the audience inside the mind of the characters directly and emphatically. It was in general a well-made film, the camerawork was good and it was something that played out like a film and not a TV special. The director stayed out of the way and let a great story tell itself that is usually how good films are made.

Nothing Like Chocolate – is a film that is exciting to me because of the possible situations it could be applied to. It not only can be applied to agriculture and human rights, but it can also be labeled as enviro activism and a food industry film as well. It does all of these things while centering on a topic that almost everybody is already interested in – chocolate. That alone makes this film clever and diverse in terms of its application. It is the story of a man who objects to the slave labor that is a staple of the chocolate industry and thus decides to start his own on the island of Grenada. It is a compelling mix of factory/production shots, character study, and real life stock footage that does a great job of giving the audience some perspective. It was an interesting look not only into the industry but also into chocolate itself. Decent production quality, not flashy or stunning, but functional. This film is a solid B and can be used just about anywhere making it a very useful addition to EFF. (4)