VIFF’s eco docs


young couple carry solar panels onto a roof

Inspiring 4th Revolution bats renewable energy nay-sayers out of the stadium.

It seems more like a decade than a year since VIFF last came round. Make that two decades. With Copenhagen’s failure fast becoming a dot in the rear view mirror, one filmmaker has returned to footage from the first “Earth Summit” in Rio for inspiration. In Severn, The Voice of Our Children, Jean-Paul Jaud frames his thoughts for the future of the human race around the resonant words of David Suzuki’s daughter in 1992, when, at 12 years of age, she told delegates at the Rio Earth summit, “What you do makes me cry at night.” Now 29, and living in Haida Gwaii, Severn is still crying, but the mother-to-be is not totally without hope. Jaud balances a teary-eyed and elegiac tone with some encouraging portraits of organic pioneers around the world. I particularly liked the detailed portrait of Takao Furuno, a sage Japanese rice farmer who has used fish and ducks to fertilize rice fields and control pests, with a 30 percent increase in crop yield over industrial farming methods.

VIFF’s green film strand, “Ecologies of the Mind, is particularly at pains this year to find a life-affirming green thread. In this sense, German doc The 4th Revolution – Energy Autonomy hits the spot and with its scattergun approach, everything around the spot. The forceful German politician Hermann Scheer spearheads the assault on the energy status quo, which, we are told, is perpetuated for political, not technological, reasons. Meanwhile, director Carl-A. Fechner introduces us to change-makers such as electric sports car pioneer Elon Musk, and Preben Maegaard, who talks about a Danish micro-energy success story. Together, these experts bat alternative energy naysayers – epitomized by a hapless International Energy Association (IEA) economist – out of the stadium. The ideas raised in this slick production could easily fill a whole television series.

Robinson in Ruins, set in the South of England, is a strange but curious piece of art. The premise is that 19 film cans were discovered in a derelict caravan in a field. The footage has been assembled with a dry, factual narrative based on the writings the itinerant Robinson made in his notebook. We are told Robinson believed that “if he looked at the landscape hard enough, it would reveal to him the molecular basis of historical events and in this way he hoped to see into the future...”

Point of view doc David Wants to Fly constantly surprised me. I almost wrote it off as navel-gazing by Berlin-based student director David Sieveking, as he raked around for inspiration. “I wanted to make dark films like my idol David Lynch,” he says near the start. “But I was lacking the darkness.” Lynch, a devotee of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, initially gives the younger man supportive advice, but also inadvertently opens a door into the darkness surrounding this mysterious cult, popularized by the Beatles. Sieveking, to his credit, keeps matters low key and personal and shows great tenacity in the pursuit of the truth. It’s an expose, but it also contains much sweetness and light.

Psychohydrography shows the passage of water from mountain to sea in time-lapse. Big subject, especially for water-deprived Los Angeles. But I felt this was too stylistically rigid and would have been more expansive using other cinematic techniques. In The Wake of the Flood might interest fans of Margaret Atwood, although I found it a little too rudderless.

Finally, I’ve only seen the teaser clips on the NFB website, but Sturla Gunnarsson’s biography Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie looks a likely contender for “best documentary.”

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike Alone. www.youneverbikealone.com. He writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.