Posts Tagged ‘Eco-doc’

The River (2021)

Dir.: Jennifer Peedom; co-directed by Joseph Nizeti; narrated by Willem Dafoe; Documentary; Australia 2021, 75 min.

An impressive collection of river images coalesce with a mellow voice-over commentary by Willem Dafoe and music from the Australian Chamber Orchestra in this languorous companion piece to the director’s 2017 documentary Mountain.

We start in the recording studio where the chamber orchestra tune their instruments, and Dafoe looks for the right nuance of tone. Then we are literally thrown into the river, in this case a waterfall, where a canoeist struggles to stay afloat despite losing the paddles. A historical, philosophical and ecological journey ensues, the story of mankind and rivers, and how they shaped each other. The loosely formed narrative flows, oscillating between soothing and wild – just like its subject.

Feel yourself sinking into the languid images; Peedom and the five accredited DoPs filmed in 39 countries, and the result is the capture of natures’ glory, with a few ecological warnings thrown in: “It is always the poor who suffer most”, underlining images of a river polluted by plastic bottles and other industrial debris. “Rivers have shaped us as a species; they are the source of human dreams. Worshipped like Gods, humans dreamt of rivers, forces of live and death”. “But now, our Gods have become our subjects”, dams, and other irrigation measures show the changing relationship between men and rivers. Global networks of transport, connecting metropolis and their smaller brethren: “The world’s great cities all have a river at their heart”. There are mystical cloud plays, connecting the rivers to the firmament.

Rivers is a lesson in visual filmmaking, that eschews ‘Talking Heads’ telling its story visually, images are used as an argument, sometimes poetic, then again also “as wild as the river itself”. Humans rarely feature and only dominant in black-and-white archive material about the ‘taming’ of waterways. But the bursting of dams and other catastrophes show only too clearly that the power is reverting to nature. But still, “we share our fate with the rivers, we flow together”. Rivers very much follows the course Joris Ivens’ A Tale of the Wind.  Peedom is also neither reverential, nor does she agitate on behalf of environmentalists, but simply shows the beauty of ecology. The music composed by Willaim Barton, Piers Burbrook de Vere and Richard Tognetti is an integral part of the feature; editor Simon Njoo is able to harness the ebbing and flowing of the Rivers into a stream of images, into which the audience can lose itself: “Rivers change you, gradually and permanently”. AS

RIVER nationwide Q&A preview 16 March 2022 with Robert Macfarlane and Jennifer Peedom, on general release 18th March www.river.film

Amazon Adventure 3D (2017) ***

Dir: Mike Slee | Carl Knutson, Wendy MacKeigan | Cast: Calum Finlay, Ed Birch, Billy Postlethwaite, Robert Daws, Louis Partridge | Docudrama 46′

A new science detective story shows how a naturalist and explorer from Leicester provided the vital proof to help Darwin finally publish his controversial theory of natural selection, the greatest scientific explanation for the development of life on Earth.

Aimed at all audiences but particularly suitable for children this colourful, concise award-winning film combines an eco-documentary with an appealing true story that sees two young Englishmen follow their passion into the depths of the unknown, 15o years ago in the Victorian era.

Henry Bates grew up in Leicestershire where his family ran a stocking factory. But Bates’ dream was to pursue his interest in insects and how they managed to survive their often hostile environment with its many predators. Together with his friend Alfred Wallace he raised finance from a local insurer Sami Stevens and the two set off to the Amazon jungle where for 11 they risked life and limb to find out how species changed.

After a month at sea the men finally arrive at the Brazilian coast where they head for the Amazon river. In order to pay for their expenses they compile a daily catalogue comprising hundreds of butterflies. But their quest to find evidence that species can change wouldn’t be quick or easy. Si they decided to split up in order to cover more of the massive rainforest. Gradually evidence began to emerge. They soon discovered the sloth, and insects camouflaged as snakes. Infact, almost every living creature seemed to be in a disguise to avoid being eaten while it got to eat more. The expedition was fraught with difficulty as Bates suffered from malaria and Wallace eventually returned home after being shipwrecked in the North of the Brazil. But he managed to continue his work in the Far East, thanks to the insurance money from his accident. Meanwhile, Bates hired a native guide who introduced him to locals, who we meet face to face.

Impressive camerawork and 3D effects plunge us into the heart of the jungle, with detailed maps guiding us along the way. After six years Bates finally discovers a Longwing butterfly with six legs rather than four. It avoided being eaten due to its bitter taste. For every Longwing there was a matching mimic. The black, red and yellow colours marked it out a species in flux. And once back in Leicester in 1869 Bates was able to provide Darwin with enough evidence to prove how each had changed to constitute a new species in order to survive. In all, 8000 species were discovered by Bates. He never went back to the Amazon but his legacy lives on. Today scientists have finally been able to discover the genetic process involved in the mutation of species. MT

AMAZON ADVENTURE 3D at the BFI IMAX, and at the Cineworld IMAX in Glasgow from 15th April. Amazon Adventure is an epic and inspirational true story of a British explorer set in the heart of the amazon rainforest.

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