Posts Tagged ‘eco warriors’

Genesis 2 (2018) *** Russian Film Week 2018

Dirs: Christian Frei, Maxim Arbugaev | Switzerland | 2018 | 113 mins

GENESIS 2 follows the yearly search for mammoth tusks in the frozen wastes of the New Siberian Islands, discovered in 1723. The task of extracting frozen genetic material from the permafrost is a tough but a worthy one intended to enable some pioneering scientists to reconstruct the long-extinct mammoth that once roamed the icy region.

Oscar-nominated documentarian Christian Frei (War Photographer) has quite literally taken on a mammoth task in exploring this hostile Arctic hinterland. Genesis 2 scratches at the edges of both horror and science, in an endeavour that occasionally feels like he has taken off more that he can chew.

As in Book of the Sea, also screening during Russian Film Week, Friel adds elements of myth to his icebound study. The film opens with narrated verses from a Yakutian epic tale, accompanied by Max Richter’s morose music, and the characters who embark on this intrepid research are all courageous – even foolhardy – enough to risk their lives for what may amount to very little: the resonance with Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, The Wild Blue Yonder, Grizzly Man and even Aguirre Wrath of God, are clearly felt. At times Frei even sounds like the great master himself.

Many of these eco-warriors are dicing with death and several will actually meet their maker in the vain hope of returning home with a slither of genetic material that they can trade for upwards of $45,00. And while this may feed their families for some time, they must endure the downside: perishing cold and even death.

Back in the comparative comfort of a smug Boston scientific seminar we hear how “synthetic biology” is going to change everything by “taking control of evolution” by creating hybrid creatures out of horses, sheep and zebras. But that seems rather glib to the anxious tusk hunters struggling to dig up the ground in the bleak terrain of the Northern hemisphere. Peter Grigoriev (Frie terms him an intellectual because ‘he likes reading a lot”) and his brother Semyon Grigoriev, the Head of the Mammoth Museum, in Yakutsk, Siberia are the main characters in this rather sombre eco-doc, are seen wading through mud in the dripping interior of a cave where “cavemen lived for hundreds of years”. It emerges that anyone who tries to dissenter a mammoth will visited by a curse but they are also deemed “lucky” to come across three polar bears. When Semyon eventually comes across the ancient flesh of tusk specimen, he can’t help tasting it, but seems rather unimpressed. Back in the lab, the aim is to create a new animal, a chimera – just the like the woolly mammoth was back in the day. `

There is a sense of wonder and awe, but also a sense of foreboding in the sober search for animal remains. The spectacular visuals create an amazing sense of the remote emptiness of the locations and the quiet desperation of Siberians who travel here in the hope of improving their lives. The bright Boston buildings and the massive shiny headquarters of China’s National Gene bank make this ‘new life’ seem rather devoid of reality when compared to the gruelling coal face search. MT

SCREENING DURING RUSSIAN FILM WEEK | 25 NOVEMBER – 2 DECEMBER 2018

Leave No Trace (2018) ****

Dir: Debra Granik | Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Ben Foster | US Drama | 109′

A wayfarer father (Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) are the focus of  Debra Granik’s cogent coming of age docudrama that explores – without judgement or melodrama – the close but often problematic bond between parent and teenager as they go about their day-to-day existence ‘eco-warrior-style’ in the lushly wooded US Pacific coastal area.

LEAVE NO TRACE avoids dramatic conflict in its pragmatic approach to telling a contemporary story that harks back to an atavistic era of hunter gatherers portraying with complete naturalness and finesse the pair’s daily existence as they forage for food, seek out warmth and shelter, relying completely on local flora and fauna for all their creature comforts. And for a while it seems an enviable and harmonious way of life until Tom (Thomasin) grows tired of roaming around and hungers for something more – both physically and emotionally – as she discovers that nesting and belonging suits her better than avoiding society and being constantly on the move. Whether this is a male or female state of mind is a subject for consideration in this – on the surface – simple but thematically rich piece of filmmaking. Tom’s coming of age evolves as naturally as the landscape surrounding her. Clearly her father is a loner, whereas Tom is much more garrulous – clearly a product of her nature rather than her parental nurturing.

What also emerges here is a picture of rural America at its most original state: a collection of people who came together and forged a close community looking after each other in what could ideally be described as basic socialism. But when the state intervenes in the form of social care our hackles begin to rise at this seemingly unnatural intrusion into their state of grace.

With this quietly unassuming indie gem Granik questions and explores complex human dynamics: our desire for privacy and autonomy within our families, communities and even within ourselves is constantly evolving and being challenging by officialdom. LEAVE NO TRACE is a small gem that is larger than life. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 29 JUNE 2018

 

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