Green Screen A film series in Washington, D.C. explores environmental issues.
Michael Gottwald, Wesleyan University
Wednesday April 4, 2007
Last week, from March 15-25, Washington, D.C. played host to the 15th annual Environmental Film Festival, featuring 115 films from 27 different countries. Most were documentaries, including a mini-retrospective by George Butler (the director of The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition and Pumping Iron, among others), nature films about subjects like the tulip and the American Buffalo, arts and architecture pieces like Building the Gherkin, and obligatory multiple screenings of An Inconvenient Truth. There were features as well, such as a just-released environmental horror film called The Last Winter, the French modernist classic Playtime, and, of course, the token movie about a boy and a cheetah, this one entitled Duma. In addition there were animated series, student films, and movies for kids–all of this held at venues all over the city, from the Embassy of the Czech Republic to the National Geographic Society to the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Any and all information on the films and the festival can be found at www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org. Most events were free, and many were accompanied by discussions with filmmakers or experts on the subject. In fact, I attempted to kick off my own green cinema weekend by attending a screening of Addicted to Oil: Thomas L. Friedman Reporting at the Carnegie Institute, followed by a panel discussion with the man himself, but when I arrived with fifteen minutes to spare, the place was filled to the brim. I did spot The Moustache of Understanding himself though, and he’s shorter than you probably think he is.
In any case, here are summaries and mini-critiques of some of the more interesting films you may want to check out for yourself.
This film takes as its premise that the wide expanses of huge manufacturing centers, toxic waste dumps, and grimy shipyards are our modern-day landscapes, replacing our idyllic notions of snow-capped mountains and rolling hills with images of decimated Bangladeshi villages, sprawling dam construction sites, and heaps of discarded computer junk. This idea is inherited from Edward Burtynsky, a Canadian photographer whose countless images of the aforementioned subjects comprise most of the movie. The photographs are truly amazing, both in the sheer vastness of the industrial sites they contain, and the little bits of humanity they find within.
Indeed, much of the film felt like a slideshow, and an exhausting amount of time is spent zooming out from the face of a confused Chinese child to the jarring rubble that surrounds him or her. But the film animates Burtynsky’s work in ways that pictures can’t–its first image is a ten-minute-long tracking shot that peers down the endless rows of yellow-suited Chinese workers as they toil–cutting, drilling, packaging–in a plastics plant. The film is also unafraid to show the seams of its own production, letting the audience in on the creative and bureaucratic obstacles that Burtynsky faces. Though the movie purports to cast an objective eye on our new landscapes, when it focuses on China’s frantic urbanization, the real message become clear: it is our own self-obsessed delirium that has allowed the disintegration of our natural environments to be overcome by the construction of artificial ones.