Archive for the ‘Films and Documentaries’ Category

On Coal River Screens At SF Docfest 2010

Monday, October 11th, 2010

coal riverOne of the great aspects of the upcoming 9th San Francisco Documentary  Festival is not only the number of environmental based docu films but the fact that the eclectic selection comes from other regions that might not be on the general green radar. On Coal River would be one of those deeply environmental films that register emotionally strong notes by way of West Virginia.

A few of us viewed On Coal River which that takes place in the bucolic mountain area of Coal River Valley which immediately brings us into a David and Goliath struggle with the town residents confronting the notorious Massey Energy (the same Massey Energy that had the coal mining disaster on April 5, 2010).

Directors Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood take a back roads approach for the footage and back-story. The films smartly keys on some of the more active residents and colorful residents who have either been coal miners or know coal miners. The film makers go out of there way to show how coal mining (or rather mountaintop removal) continues to be a vital aspect to the economy (although they point out that the percentage of miners sits significantly lower that in past years) but many people believe that this business has also become a toxic and environmental liability for local residents.

The film focuses on several local community members who like to call themselves hillbillies but also educated hillbillies. In the forefront stands former miner Ed Wiley an activist/environmentalist who fights the good fight to get people to recognize that their local elementary school where their children attend should be recognized as an environmental hazard. The filmmakers capture the passionate and emotional Wiley spearheading protest efforts, leading educational meetings as well as him walking from West Virginia to Washington DC to raise awareness and get his point across.

On Coal River does a great service by not creating an overly polished film, and by sticking to capturing real emotion. The rough footage works well to demonstrate that people will fight for an environmental cause in states other than west coast states. It offers some insight into what the other people who support Massey (mostly people concerned with the local economic concerns if they fight Massey) but the film doesn’t get any official response from the energy giant. Did Massey officials decline to be interviewed for this film? Although the focus on the school offers a solid storyline and a hot topic, the film might have added some additional conclusion and information about the polluted water supply and toxic health conditions. What good is it to have a new school when the water supply and air remain poisoned for the whole town?

Despite some loose threads, it is great to see an emotionally charged environmental film where David wears a hillbilly hat.

ON COAL RIVER
Francine Cavanaugh, 81 min, USA
Fri 10/22 9:30p; Mon 10/25 7:15p

Social Justice Highlights the 53rd San Francisco Internation Film Fesival Gaolden Gate Awards

Thursday, May 6th, 2010
Director Lixin Fan

Director Lixin Fan

In the last days of the 53rd SFIFF we must attend the parties (oh yes, it is a chore) and awards ceremonies. Last night we milled about the Golden Gate Awards with lots of buzz, drinks, food and happy filmmakers. The under appreciated and deserving filmmakers stood in the spotlight and garnered more than just awards but cold hard cash. (That’s what indie feature and docu filmmakers need most).

Held at the Temple Bar which does more than the average bar/club and adheres to the People, Profit and Planet philosophy (but we wish that they would do away with the paper towels in the bathrooms) the Golden Gate awards spotlighted several films and filmmakers who created sustainable and socially responsible films. Among the big winners, Director Lixin Fan picked up an award for best Investigative Documentary (along with oh so welcome cash) for his intriguing and visually stunning Last Train Home which highlights the story of a group of migrant factory workers on a taxing holiday trip back to their small village in modern China. It offers a stirring look at social justice and the dichotomy of modern versus old school China life.

The film beat out other feature documentary contenders including: Colony, where two Irish directors (Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn) investigate the mystery of the vanishing bee colonies in California’s Central Valley and The Investigation of Dr. Nakamats.

In a nod to festival award recipient Roger Ebert, here’s a thumbs up to films that don’t have to resort to 3D to tell a story.

New Documentary “Tapped” Makes Bottled Water Look All Wet

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

While watching the new documentary “Tapped” with some of my other Greenies, we glanced at each other when one of the water rights experts used a notable quote courtesy of Mark Twain, “Whiskey is for sipping and water is for fighting.” So true, and the fighting will only get worse at least if you believe the water wars that will soon steal the headlines from the oil wars. Twain’s words echo much of the sentiment for this interesting, informative and thought provoking new docu flick.

Directed by Stephanie Soechtig, the film deconstructs the various aspects of the bottled water industry. Tapped examines the role of the bottled water industry and its effects on our health, climate change, pollution, and our reliance on oil. Unlike oil which people think of as a commodity, water hasn’t truly hasn’t been considered a commodity until recently. Although water wars and rights have become big news in various countries, Tapped jumps into the fray and pulls no punches right here in the U.S. The film targets (among others) the big three bottled water companies (Nestle, Coke and Pepsi who declined to be interviewed for the film), the International Bottled Water Association, and the FDA.

Tapped leaps right into water rights war between Swiss owned Nestle (who owns various bottle water brands including Poland Springs and Arrowhead) and the town of Fryeburg, ME. The film shows compelling footage and as well as local interviews which show that Nestle stealthy bought the rights to land in an effort to suck all of the water supply from the ground that it can without the consent or payment to the public. The film captures footage of tanker trucks quietly rolling into town but instead of loading up with black gold, they fill up with blue gold (H2O). Soechtig creates more drama as she displays the protests and grassroots movement demonstrations while showing and discussing the Nestle tactics.

They say that oil and water don’t mix, but nothing could be further from the truth when considering the plastic water bottles. The film flows with information about the hazardous materials found in the petroleum based plastic water bottles. Most companies produce water bottles using BPA which as the film claims can causes cancer, brain disorders and diabetes among other diseases. Even though the FDA claims that small levels of BPA to be safe that approval is based upon two chemical company studies. We loved the footage of Senator John Kerry grilling an FDA employee about the lack of third party, independent studies that the FDA uses to determine the safety of various plastic water bottle ingredients.

Speaking of the FDA, the bottled water does not fall under FDA jurisdiction as far as water quality, and it’s horrifying to watch the FDA spokespeople (as well as the spokespeople from the International Bottled Water Association) refuse to answer or simple gloss over questions about various studies and quotes about the quality of the water and the containers. It’s pretty much a self regulated industry so caveat emptor to all bottled water drinkers.

The film also pulls a few heart strings when Soechtig interviews local residents in Corpus Christi who live next to the largest private manufacturer of plastic water bottles. The documentary makes a strong case that the manufacturer looms as a sort of plastic Three Mile Island for the local residents who deal with various diseases and defects because of their proximity.

Tapped surprises with info about the worldwide effects of plastic water bottles (i.e. the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only one of five ocean plastic zones in the oceans) as well and lots of insider info from various experts and even an ex-FDA employee.  At some points the film becomes a bit repetitive as it encircles the same points but overall the film offers keen insight into the bottle water industry and leaves the companies making the bottles, sucking the water from the ground, and regulating the industry looking all wet.

9500 Liberty Documentary Fuels Immigration Debate

Friday, October 30th, 2009

For anyone who has seen the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, they might get that same feeling of “us” versus “them” that fills the truly indie 9500 Liberty. Body Snatchers grabbed its content and texture from the red scare, the McCarthy era where people believed that Communists (or rather aliens) launched an invasion of the small town. 9500 Liberty takes that same feeling with a Virginia town that according to some locals has been invaded by Zapatistas but the scary thing here is that the film here is a documentary.

In the McMansion and McMall loaded Prince William County, a wealthy suburb of Washington D.C., directors Annabel Park and Eric Byler weave a hot button topic film that shows a community hatefully splitting itself in half  — one side the conservative, wealthy lower and middle class Anglos who wish their community to remain lily white and the other side the immigrants who moved into the lower and middle class neighborhoods but also built the McMansions, cook the food and represent much of the quiet economy of the town. The film shows the racial divide that forms as a result of a one notable blogger who creates a fear campaign camping and gets the city council to enact an immigration policy that requires police officers to question anyone they have “probable cause” to suspect as being an undocumented immigrant.

Although the film documents the protests in and front of the local government offices, the real battle takes place through the Internet as the immigrants and their supporters create their own resistance using You Tube videos (shot by the filmmakers) as well as counter blogs.  The filmmakers create an all too scary vibe mostly because of the scary xenophobia and racism that exists under the guise of politicking. As director Byler mentioned before last night’s West Coast Premiere in San Francisco, “When people are made to be afraid, they tend to act in very predictable ways, and there are people who know to exploit these fears, in particular racial or cultural fears, in order to influence elections or advocate for or against legislation.”
“This is a cautionary tale where people are afraid to act in predictable ways.” He followed up by saying, “It’s a cheap lesson.” For the price of a movie ticket, the people who see the film will get a town full of objective education.

The Informant! Delves Into the World of Lysine

Friday, September 18th, 2009

When was the last time any moviegoer hard heard words lysine and high fructose corn syrup in the same movie? I’m not talking about a documentary but rather a major motion picture with real celebrities and budgets and that sort of thing. Those hungry for a “corn- based” movie will be excited to check out the new film “The Informant!” which opens later this week.

While some film fans may be psyched to see the Matt Damon’s newest role as Mark Whitacre, and others queue up too see director Steven Soderbergh do something other than an “Ocean’s” film, my friend and I liked the whole corn based aspect of the film. What other film maybe except for documentary flicks like King Corn, or Food Inc. open with such info about how corn exists in a ridiculous amount of food and even non food items.  The Informant! delves right into the world of the corn based lysine and even high fructose corn syrup (the photo depicts a scene where one of the FBI agents spies yet another product containing high fructose corn syrup). (more…)

Documentary Movie The Cove – Shallow Water. Deep Secret.

Monday, August 10th, 2009

A seemingly paranoid, ex-dolphin trainer slowly drives through a foreign land while being pursued by police and other locals may appear to be the start of a riveting spy thriller and in some cases that’s exactly what this film is but instead of drawing from the mind of Robert Ludlum, this situation comes from a real life deep dark cover up. Four years in the making, The Cove, surrounds the slaughter of thousands of dolphins in Taiji, Japan instantly thrusts viewers into a sort of Flipper espionage that not only rivets the audience but sends them on an emotional and educational rollercoaster.

The Cove refers to a sea inlet of the coast of Taiji where on the surface the town seems to embrace dolphins but in reality some of the local politicos as well as a handful of fisherman keep the dolphin slaughter a secret to not only most locals but the rest of Japan as well. (more…)

Green Thinking Builds 500 Days of Summer

Friday, July 17th, 2009

The new flick 500 Days of Summer, which generated much buzz as the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, rolls out in limited release today. Lot’s of people are talking about it as a romantic comedy meets Momento which in film terms means that those with ADD or short attention spans might be confused by this rambunctious romantic romp. But for us, the buzz doesn’t just lie in the zigzagging sex talk but rather in the architecture talk. Even more specifically in the Green architecture talk. (more…)

Food, Inc. Documentary Movie Removes Shroud of Secrecy

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

FoodInc_JoelHDFor those in America who have yet to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fast Food Nation or even The Jungle, the new docu pic Food, Inc. smoothly stirs the boiling pot of food production controversy while allowing those not familiar with the dark secrets of the food production industry to enjoy a film in bite size nuggets.

With Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser a co-producers and Omnivore’s Dilemma writer Michael Pollen one of the consultants (in addition to being on-screen participants) the film offers a solid, well presented structure that offers not only scary, gut wrenching even stomach turning scenes in meatpacking plants, chicken coops and but offers a silver lining into the future of food. (more…)

The Age of Stupid at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

http://sustainablog.org/files/2009/05/age_of_stupid_05.jpgThings must be getting serious. At least for the planet and the environment. What else would explain the plethora of eco documentaries hitting the film festival circuit or that will hit mainstream theaters in the near future? Many of these green docu films cast a waving finger along with charts and graphs about what will happen to the planet in the future if we don’t act now. The Age of Stupid works a bit in reverse.

The Age of Stupid takes place in the year 2055 with a man called the Archivist (Pete Postlethwaite) sitting in a Noah’s Ark type storage tower with a collection of famous art, pairs of animals, and enough computer servers to make Google envious.  The tower exists because the world has turned into a fiery, and flood ridden disaster area. The Archivist  searches through archived video footage to see where man went wrong after having the opportunity to change things. The film takes futuristic standpoint of looking at the present (like right now). (more…)

Crude Documentary at 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Photo by David Gilbert, http://www.uncontacted.com/

A documentary or any feature film, like a good dessert, needs good texture. Some docs offer light delicate flavors, while others serve up crisp tawdry offerings but Crude, the latest feature documentary from director Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) brings a feel so viscous its some wonder that the film and the emotions within it don’t just ooze into the theater.

And why wouldn’t the film be viscous with center of the film swirling around a legal case about the black gold being pumped out of the jungles of Ecuador. Some have called the case the “Amazon Chernobyl” but whatever the name, Berlinger delves head first into this the David versus Goliath story that circles around one of the longest and most controversial legal (not to mention environmental and human rights) cases ever.

(more…)