Jutland Station reviews: documentaries on environment

This weekend’s SustaIN Festival treated its festival-goers in Aarhus with an array of environmental documentaries. Jutland Station sat down with a bucket of non-GMO popcorn and saw inspiring films on: ice, rubbish and porn. Although, Chasing Ice, Waste Land and Fuck for Forest turned out to be not only conversation pieces but also thought-provoking representations of the current state of the planet.

Ice, ice baby – evidence for the doubtful
By Laura Myllymäki

Blue, white, purple, transparent. Big, small, architectural, angular. Breathtaking and extremely tragic.

Yes, we are talking about ice. Thanks to National Geographic photographer James Balog, the average person can now sit back on the couch while digesting the beautiful yet disturbing visual blast of thawing of glaciers.

Directed by Jeff Orlowski, Chasing Ice (2012) follows Balog and his multidisciplinary and adventurous crew to: Greenland, Iceland and Alaska where they deploy cameras that would capture the multi-year change of the environment. With time-lapse photography, Balog illustrates the last dance of glaciers, while underlining the proportions and speed of this human-caused demolition. Chasing Ice depicts calving, the breaking off of chunks of ice at the edge of a glacier, as if it was the ice that was crying before its untimely demise.

The film stresses that Balog was once a climate skeptic. However, after having devoted his career to documenting the transformation of ice sheets, there simply was no room for doubt in his mind. The evidence was too strong to be ignored and the brilliance of the documentary lies, indeed, in its ability to visualize this change.

Recently, the prime minister of Iceland declared in the media that he sees a lot of opportunities that climate change would bring about in the country. Meanwhile in Denmark, heads have turned towards Greenland, where 20 to 25 percent of the world’s rare earth elements could potentially be produce – minerals important to the IT industry. Undeniably, not everybody’s up for saving the polar bears.

In a world that is prone to go along with short-sighted business logic, we need films like Chasing Ice.

Chasing Ice (USA, 2012). Director: Jeff Orlowski. Writer: Mark Monroe.
Stars: James Balog, Svavar Jónatansson and Louie Psihoyos.

From the film Chasing Ice: Glacier in Iceland. Photo: James Balog

From the film Chasing Ice: Glacier in Iceland. Photo: James Balog

A wasted, yet precious land
By Mariana Campos

When prominent artist Vik Muniz joined a group of Brazilian recyclable material pickers of Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho landfill in 2010 in order to find materials that would make art out of that inhospitable environment, he didn’t imagine how moving the experience would be for him nor for the local community. Gramacho landfill, the largest one in the world in terms of volume of trash received daily, was the working place of around 3000 people until 2012, when it was closed.

Directed by Lucy Walker, the Oscar-nominated Waste Land (2010) planned as an art film turned out to be a striking ecological message where the sub-human conditions the pickers were living to the incapacity of politicians to deal with waste management was brought to light.

As the film unravels, it becomes easy to see that, in the same way nobody cared about the rubbish deposited in Gramacho daily, no one cared about the catadores either who were considered the dregs of society. Nevertheless, Vik Muniz gave them a voice by portraying them and they beautifully accepted the challenge by sharing their neediness and dreams to the world and, surprisingly, their happiness.

Gramacho used to receive 200 tonnes of recyclable material every day, which is the equivalent of the rubbish generated by a city with 400 thousand inhabitants. Aarhus, with approximately 320 thousand people, experiences a different reality. Although the heaps of trash in Aarhus may look similar to the ones showed in the film, machines will take care of them and everything will be burnt. What these two places do have in common, however, is a huge waste of resources. Valuable materials will not be sent to recycling, but to landfills and incinerators instead.

Waste land invites us to reflect upon our everyday waste, especially when you see Isis, a lively picker, who asks: “It’s easy for you to be sitting in front of your tv consuming whatever you want and tossing everything in the trash and leaving it out on the street for the rubbish truck to take it away. But where is this rubbish going?”.

Waste land (UK/ Brazil, 2010). Directors: Lucy Walker. Co-directors: Karen Harley and João Jardim. Star: Vik Muniz

From the film Waste Land: Picker Tião posing to Vik Muniz. Photo: Courtesy of Vik Muniz Studio

From the film Waste Land: Picker Tião posing to Vik Muniz. Photo: Courtesy of Vik Muniz Studio

Fucking for forest, really?
By Lisa Duhm

To put it into positive words: they are the children of our time. High on idealistic standards, the Fuck for Forest activists are not able to escape our system’s preconditions. This might be one of the reasons why the documentary with a similar title is so hard to watch. The movie, produced by Polish filmmaker Michał Marczak, follows a bunch of modern time hippies who try to raise money by selling pornographic material on the internet and through this fundraising support indigenous people and their natural habitat in South America.

Living in a big house in the center of Berlin, the six protagonists from Norway, Sweden and Germany follow the lifestyle of a commune in the 60s. “Sometimes, I still feel like I’m in a movie about psychedelic music from the 60s”, says Dany, one of the group’s members, summing up his life. Dressed up as a kind of parody of Captain Jack Sparrow, with dreadlocks and colourful costumes, they celebrate their sexuality with orgies and public group sex. The videos they take of themselves when having sex as well as the naked portraits of them are published on their website and then sold. When they go outside, they are either on the search for food or join protests for a free and happy world while also looking to recruit people to fight for their cause.

The image of their extremely alternative lifestyle is shattered when the group is shown editing pornographic videos on their Macbooks while high-end music equipment they use in their shared flat is seen. When the group travels to South America to go on holiday and take a look at the indigenous people they are supporting with the income from their website, we wonder if their project can ever make up for the carbon-dioxide set free through these travels.

The documentary leaves these contradictions unanswered. The viewer is left behind with a strong feeling of pity for the characters. “I’m very fine with being misunderstood,” Dany says at some point. More than calling the attention to the devastating influence humans have on Southern American rainforest, this seems to be the aim of the documentary.

Fuck For Forest (Poland/ Germany, 2012). Director: Michał Marczak. Writers: Michał Marczak and Łukasz Grudziński. Stars: Tommy Hol Ellingsen, Leona Johansson and Dany DeVero.

Fuck for Forest poster.

Fuck for Forest poster.

Laura Myllymäki is a Finnish freelance journalist who has previously worked as a reporter and editor. She is currently enrolled in Erasmus Mundus Journalism, Media and Globalisation programme. Recently, Laura has been interested in investigating environmental issues.

Mariana Campos is a Brazilian journalist and passionate about environmental issues. Currently a Master student at Erasmus Mundus programme, she has previously worked as a press officer for the Governor of Rio de Janeiro; as a reporter for the Jungle Drums magazine in London; and directed a documentary about a north-eastern Brazilian village which later won the Best Environmental Reportage prize at Amazonia Film Festival. Twitter: @mari_campos83

Lisa Duhm has been working as a journalist for different media in Germany. Currently studying her Master’s degree in Aarhus, her main interest is on stories on the environment.

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