Posts Tagged ‘feature_documentary’

The Bitter Seeds – Documentary About GMO Seeds In India

Monday, April 23rd, 2012
The Bitter Seeds - Documentary About GMO Seeds In India

The Bitter Seeds - Documentary About GMO Seeds In India

Just after Earth Day seemed like an appropriate time to see The Bitter Seeds at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival. The third in a globalization trilogy by Bay Area Filmmaker Micha X. Peled following Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town and China Blue. The opening images in Bitter Seeds of an Indian farmer who just committed suicide due to the economic hardship. It creates a disturbing beginning for this character driven docu film that focuses on the effects that GMO seeds have on the cotton farmers in Central India.

The root of the film, investigates the how Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds negatively impact the livelihood of the Indian farmers. The farmers face a viscous cycle that circles around the GMO seeds, refused loans by legitimate banks and exorbitant loans by local moneylenders (a.k.a. loan sharks). The farmers fall into a cycle of debt that often results in suicide. The film only touches on the fact that large US cotton growers receive huge subsides from the US government while the small Indian receive nothing.

Beside the economic impact, the well- balanced documentary also follows 18 year old Manjusha whose desire to become a journalist and find the deep reasons about these suicides stems from the fact that her farmer father committed suicide. The film also address the social and family impact of the family farmers and how the pressure continue to mount.

The film creates a natural tie-in to the second film in the trilogy China Blue as much of the cotton harvested in this region gets shipped to China.

More interesting remains the fact that Bitter Seeds got a last minute nix from the London Film Festival due to “legal reasons”.

While not quite a David versus Goliath tale, it does contain elements that pit US GMO seed maker Monsanto versus the Indian Farmers. Toss in the family issues, and the local flavor and the film offers an informative piece of a well balanced trilogy.

Screens at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival:

Tue, Apr 24
8:50 / PFA

Thu, Apr 26
6:15 / Kabuki

The City Dark (2012 San Francisco Green Film Festival) Addresses Light Pollution

Monday, March 5th, 2012

the city darkThey say we live in a bubble. What many people fail to realize is that the bubble in question looks like and feels like against light bulb. In that giant light bulb we humans continue to lose touch with anything beyond our own urban cityscape. Now with half of the worlds population living in urban centers people continue to lose their connection to the heavens and stars.

The City Dark (playing at the 2012 San Francisco Green Film Festival) addresses the questions surrounding the problem of light pollution in our society. Writer/director Ian Cheney takes a journey from his rural upbringing in Maine to New York City and examines how modern society continues to place an emphasis on “Bright Lights, Big City” mentality while ignoring the light pollution impact on people, animals, and the environment.

Cheney creates stirring night light images and adds flavorful animation as well as a rhythmic soundtrack to create cohesion in the dark. He brings up many well researched points including the possible effects of cancer rates and night shift workers exposed to lights, as well as the harmful effects that light pollution has on turtle migration and bird flight patterns.

Like a bird that runs smack into an over lit skyscraper, The City Dark contains some abrupt transitions such as the section involving a cancer patient who hosted a late night TV show for many years.

Although interesting and informative the film could have created more of a “call to action” for people wishing to further explore the possibilities of change. Even so, Cheney exemplifies his passion for demonstrating how the pollution in our cities is not relegated to the land and waterways. Look up.

Second San Francisco Green Film Festival Opens Today – On Coal River Top Pick

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

coal riverOne of the great aspects of the 2nd San Francisco Green Film Festival, March 1-7, 2012 lies in the eclectic lineup of enviro, sustinable, green based films. The varied selections come 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
Sat 3/3 – 3:30pm

Semper Fi Documentary Film – Military Eco-intelligence?

Monday, November 7th, 2011

SemperFiposterIs there such a thing as Military Eco-intelligence? Normally we wouldn’t dare consider the military Eco-friendly considering all of the weapons and other military waste that they have left behind in their various closed military sites. Seeing the new documentary Semper-fi Always Faithful didn’t exactly change our minds.

When Marine Corp Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger’s nine-year old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, he sought to find answers. For years he struggled to find closure and answers to what happened. His persistent uncovering of information led to the shocking discovery of a Marine Corps cover-up of one of the largest water contamination incidents in U.S. history.

The film follows the personable and persistent Ensminger to expose the Marine Corp to their culpability of poisoning thousands of military personal as well a civilians in North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune. The film directors ( Tony Hardmon, Rachel Libert ) build on the momentum that Ensminger brings. The military trained him well. He acts like a marine on a mission who won’t take no for an answer. Ensminger carries the weight of exposing the environmental injustice of the Marines on his back and keeps his target in sights like an eagle-eyed sniper.

The film not only centers on Camp Lejeune but shows the environmental injustices in military bases and surrounding areas in various regions around the country. The film feels like a punch to the gut of the top brass of the Marines. How could they poison the water supply of the faithful people who make up the Marines then cover it up and deny? Sounds like typical military operations.

Semper Fi represents a rare opportunity to show marines and ex-marines as pseudo environmentalists, a position not normally associated with the military. A powerful film indeed and perhaps it will act as an early morning revelry and lead the troops to be always faithful to Jerry Ensminger and his environmental cause.

New Environmental Documentary Patagonia Rising Plays at DocFest 2011

Monday, October 10th, 2011

IMG_0687We all make decisions in life. For Chile they have a whopper of a decision that centers on Patagonia. The new documentary film Patagonia Rising that plays at Doc Fest 2011 revolves around issues that will likely alter the region and have far reaching effects in the future.
Patagonia Rising investigates a plan to build five large hydroelectric dams on two of the world’s purest free flowing rivers in Patagonia, Chile.

The film highlights the various cultural communities caught in the middle of a conglomerate with their renewable energy plan, scientists with alternative energy ideas, local pro-dam business people and various local citizens who claim that their culture and livelihood will cease to exist if these dams become a reality.

Besides power and energy, the film also delves into the issue of water rights. As fresh water becomes scarcer, it will someday move ahead of oil as the resource that countries fight over.

The title refers to the climate change that has affected the glacial melt and overflow of many rivers that flow through the region. The film displays how flooding continues to dramatically disrupt communities, agriculture and lifestyle.

Like other enviro doc films, Patagonia Rising creates a well-balanced story that brings awareness to an important situation. Oakland based director Brian Lilla offers some stunning cinematography and subtly brings a human aspect to the situation. Althugh the film offers a mostly anti-dam slant, Lilla attempts to give all sides a voice and let the viewers decide for themselves. Although interesting and insightful, the film lacks emotion and raw energy that other docu films offer. Many of the locals who highlight Lilla’s focus lack dynamism which causes a certain passiveness to the film. A film like this needs more energy and outrage.

The film, produced in 2010, has a fairly short shelf life, with the hydroelectric decision to be made sometime in 2011. Depending on that outcome, the film could represent a historical archive of how things once appeared in Patagonia.

Environmental Films Screen At Upcoming Mill Valley Film Festival

Monday, September 19th, 2011
Eco-Pirate:The Story of Paul Watson

Eco-Pirate:The Story of Paul Watson

Is it our imagination or do the local film festivals continue to add more environmental based films to their screening lists. It must be a sign of the times. Just like the cold war themed films of the 60s many films, many current and upcoming films (both documentary and non-doc) hit various themes within the global environment. And we do mean global. The upcoming Mill Valley Film Festival contains several choice films of environmental interest that come from all over the globe including Canada, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador and the US). We hope to get more info about these flicks beforehand  and cover them all.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect:

Eco-Pirate: The story of Paul Watson (Trish Dolman) Friday October 7th and Sunday October 9th.

Miss South Pacific: Beauty and the Sea a short film which precedes Sarabah (Friday October 7th.

New Environmentalists -a short film part of Our New Frontier: Sustainability screens October 8th and 15th.

New Frontier: Sustainable Ranching in the American West – another short that screens October 8th and 15th

Portrait of a Winemaker: John Williams of Frog’s Leap – this short hits close to home and people and wine aficionados will no doubt drink it up. (October 8th and 15th)

Transition Town Totnes – a final short that screens October 8th and 15th.

See you at the movies sustainable style.

Detroit Wild City – Feature Documentary

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Detroit_Wild_City_0Screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2011

Looking at the opening images from the feature documentary Detroit Wild City, the Motor City look more like something made like Mad Max film or as one of the Detroit locals mentioned in the film that the Motor City resembles Dresden after the war.

Despite the negatives that the film focuses on – blight, crime, decay, French director Florent Tillon offers some alternative philosophies and ideas that may be surprising in the sustainability of the decaying city.

The French point of view from Tillon highlights how numerous citizens have started growing victory gardens in the midst of all the decay. The fact that Detroit used to be farm land before an auto city may come full circle (to a point) with abandoned lots being turned into local farms.

Detroit Wild City also makes a point to show how native falcons and other birds have returned to the city using deserted skyscrapers as artificial cliffs and nesting grounds.

Tillon uses arresting images to make his point while limiting interviews and dialogue to a sparse number of lower and working class Detroitians. Although it might have been interesting to get some point of view from local business people, Tillon obviously wished to keep the focus on the hard core locals who remain.

Detroit Wild City offers some hope but leaves many questions unanswered. People may have different takeaways from this striking travelogue but it does bring awareness to a supposedly dead city on the the mend.

The Pipe – Little Community Versus Big Oil Documentary

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
The Pipe

The Pipe

Screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival  - 2011

In another documentary that takes the familiar   David versus Goliath
theme, the Irish entry “The Pipe” looks at the plight of the citizens of the small Irish enclave of Rossport versus Shell E & P Ireland. Shell wishes to lay the huge Corrib Gas Pipeline through the picturesque  community but the locals fights back.

The Pipe states that Shell refused to participate in the making of this film. The fact that an energy giant refused to offer their side doesn’t come as a big surprise.  Besides the film Crude, few of the community versus energy giant (e.g. On Coal River) docupics have included participation from the Goliath.

The Pipe’s director Risteard O Domhnaill quickly sets the mood and
location by offering glorious sweeping vistas, seascapes and verdant
shots of the local region. He captures the local fisherman catching
crabs, and others walking their dogs. All things that one would expect
people in the local community to take part in.

The Pipe quickly slides into a series of conflicts that that locals initiate
against the energy giant. The film captures the protests that have a
grass roots feel with sit ins, vocal demonstrations, and town
meetings. Much of the initial conflict pits the locals versus the town police, and then later shifts to infighting as the village residents argue about the best way to attack the energy giant.

The protests include the notable 2005 arrest of “The Rossport Five”
who made international news and served as the spark for the base of
the continuing flight against Shell.  Domhnaill follows one of the
Rossport Five, fisherman Willie Corduff who remains firm in the fight
against the pipeline construction.

Although the film creates a compelling story, it suffers somewhat from
repetition and fails to fully address certain local issues. The film skims over the involvement of local and governments and only focus on the battles
between the police and the residents.  Other “oil documentaries” such
as “Crude” create more complexity by delving into the various layers
in a big oil versus local community story.

Despite some of the shortcomings the film offers high production
values and colorful locals, and enough conflict to fill the a pipeline.  The
film’s energy picks up some of the slack but not enough to raise it to
the standards of other docufilms of this genre.

“The Pipe” screens Apr 30 and May 2

Upcoming Picks for SFIFF 2011

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Pipe_Quad_Full_PosterWhen the SFIFF finally released its 2011 schedule, a few films initially struck our fancy. The Irish documentary “The Pipe” takes a look at a grassroots effort to halt the construction of a oil pipeline through one a pristine area of a small Irish town. Not only does the community battle the behemoth oil company but a largely compliant state as well.

Sticking with the theme of energy, the “Light Thief ” caught our eyes as a local electrician known as Mr. Light finds himself in a dilemma when a politician embraces the idea of generating wind energy for his destitute town.

Although we enjoy seeing the green wave of films with an environmental slant, we also maintain a keen eye for good film so that means the Errol Morris film “Tabloid” about the bizarre 70s tale of girl gone wild Joyce McKinney.

We keep salivating about Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” which we hear tastes like a food version of “Sideways”. We hope that it comes served organically.

Happy viewing.

Opening Night San Francisco Green Film Festival – Bag It

Friday, March 4th, 2011

bag itIn the hopefully not so distant future when “paper or plastic” will be answered with “neither”, the documentary “Bag It” takes an in depth view of ubiquitous plastic bags. Actually the film graduates (with the scene from “The Graduate” about plastics) from an initial look at disposable plastic bag culture that the world lives in and moves into how plastic continues to envelop our lives, health and economy.

This relatively simple film rides on the back of director Suzan Beraza and front man Jeb Berrier. The film uses a variety of interviews, archive clips and even some animation to drive home the point that plastic bags and pretty much all plastic containers continue to take a toll on the environment, marine life and human health. Thanks to Berrier, the film floats along swimmingly as he represents an “everyman” from small town Colorado who isn’t a tree hugger but realizes that plastic has taken over his life and not for the better. Berrier comes off as a George Costanza (from Seinfeld) character with a wry sense of humor who learns how plastic strangles not only his life but also the world we live in.

In the latter half of the film, Bag It moves beyond plastic bags and looks at the pervasiveness of plastic and the toxic aspects without becoming too preachy. Director Beraza and Berrier even make fun of the American Chemical Council members for ducking all requests to appear in the film.

Bag It does a solid job of alerting viewers to chemical dangers of plastic ingredients like BPA and phthalates and offers solid interviews and explanations.

Bag It could have could have been double bagged with more of an emotional punch that would have raised this docu pic to a higher level. It also could have wrapped up with more of a group “call to action” so people can feel empowered against the chemical and plastic companies.

Bag It certainly does its best to educate and entertain audience members. With funny front man Berrier leading the charge, perhaps Bag It will do for plastic bags what Morgan Sperlock did for McDonald’s fast food.