Posts Tagged ‘ecology’

Cemetery (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Carlos Casas | France, United-Kingdom, Poland, Uzbekistan / 2019 / Colour and B&W / 85′

After Hunters Since The Beginning of Time (FID 2008), a film about the primitive whale hunters of the Bering Sea, Carlos Casas finds himself drawn to wide open spaces of the world where he has filmed his contemplative second documentary. This time the setting is the rainforests of Sri Lanka and the focus is another large mammal: the Indian elephant. Casas’ gaze is drawn to the peace and intimacy of this tranquil and remote location where his cameraman Benjamin Echazarreta closes in on the eye of an elephant, and its roughly textured hide that camouflages the massive beast from potential prey. 

After a devastating earthquake the mighty beast Nga (who is getting on in life and is possibly the last of its species), is about to embark on a journey to find the mythical elephant’s graveyard with his mahout Sanra. The group of poachers following them will die one after the other under mysterious circumstances and spells.

The two explore the intensely remote location where only the ambient sound of exotic birds and insects disturbs the peace. The voyeuristic camerawork takes on the languorous pace of the elephant itself in order to explore the depths of lush rain-soaked verdancy in a green glade where a monkey listens to a broadcast about an earthquake laying waste to Asia, killing millions of people. The radio belongs to a local who is gently washing an elephant as he bathes waste deep in the muddy lagoon. There is tremendous affection in the way he carefully prepares and finishes his task, clearly a ritual he has performed many time before. But tragedy will follow as poachers are hot in pursuit. This meditative paean to massive beasts of the forest carries with it a sense of tragic foreboding as the tranquility of their clandestine hideout in mercilessly plundered.

Developing his film in the FIDLab 2013, Casas tries to shed a positive light on all this ecological tragedy. But is there a spiritual lesson to be learnt from the death of these highly intelligent creatures and the potential extinction of species. The elephant cemetery presents hope and possible rebirth, their souls immortal, just like humans. MT

Filmography : Cemetery, 2019. Avalanche, 2009-19 (on going project). End Trilogy, 2002-2009. Hunters since the Beginning of Time, 2008. Aral. Fishing in an Invisible Sea, 2004. Solitude at the End of the World, 2002-05. Rocinha, 2003. Afterwords, 2000


Earth | Erde (2019) **** Berlinale | Forum 2019

DIR: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria | Doc, 115′

Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter explores man’s monstrous impact on our planet by examining seven places particularly under siege.

Geyrhalter is a deep thinker who takes a world view and paints on a grand canvas to convey his weighty themes. And although his topics are not always palatable or easy to digest. His concerns are basic yet far-reaching: migration (The Border Fence), Nature vs. Man (Homo Sapiens); health (Danube Hospital); food prodcution (Our Daily Bread) and the 24 hour society (Abendland). Standing back from his subject matter and quietly recording the facts, his ambivalence allows us time and space to consider and form our own ideas.

EARTH is his eighth feature length film in ten years. Divided into 7 chapters, it is another ambitious, immaculately crafted, high end experience, yet the people who inhabit the film are practical, sharing mundane thoughts and experiences as he films them in long takes in the centre of the frame. Then the screen opens up to vast panoramas and then aerial views of mines and construction sites in California’s San Fernando Valley, Fort McKay, Alberta); the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy; Gyongos, Hungary; Carrara, Italy where the white marble comes from; Rio Tinto copper mines in Spain; and Wolfenbuttel, Germany. Gigantic machines crawl like behemoths on the face of the earth, digging and puncturing – not to mention the occasional explosion. It’s a hostile and even frightening sights as man plunders and probes.

Artistically and logistically bold, and ecologically troubling, the film is a mammoth endeavour. And non of the workers and experts who enliven this ecological study  with their comments admit to being largely ignorant of what they will find next as they scour and delve deeper and deeper into the earth’s core. An Italian worker in Carrara expresses his sorrow for taking giant blocks of marble away from its mountain home commenting:. Soon there won’t be anything left and our ancestors will have to move on the Moon.

The doc, divided into seven chapters of roughly fifteen minutes each, examines man’s devastating impact on the fabric of the plant Earth, endlessly chipping away and scar the landscape, Earth sees man taking over the natural environment, in contrast to Homo Sapiens that sees man’s claiming back its territory. But as the film wears on the ethical issues raised become more and more critical: “Are we a good species”? asks one expert. And one feels that the answer if possibly a clear “no”. We have fetched up on the planet and largely abused it for our owns ends. In the ‘Anthropocene’ era, our incessant intrusion on the natural environment seen through deforestation, mining and construction, together with the use of deleterious man-made materials such as plastic have no doubt led to climate change and pollution of the seas and nature.

There’s a surreal, rhythmic feel to this non-ruminative film. Geyrhalter acknowledges it all with a distant non-judgemental eye, more concerned with the labouring workers whose feint grasp of the apocalyptic enormity of their imprint often beggars belief in the scheme of things. MT


Becoming Animal (2018) ***

Dir.: Peter Mettler, Emma Davie; Documentary with David Abram; Switzerland/UK 2018, 78 min.

Peter Mettler (The End of Time) and Emma Davie (I am Breathing) direct, edit and film philosopher David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous) as he explores our real sense of alienation from the animal kingdom in a walk around Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The aim is to make us more aware of our status ‘as animals’ so we can improve our understanding of the animal kingdom and redress the balance between the ecological and the technological.

The Grand Teton National Park has a dizzying diversity of wildlife. A snail’s body becomes an immense landscape as the soundscape immerses us in shivering leaves, rushing rivers and the weird spacey pitch of elk bugling at night. Becoming Animal uses the sensory tools of cinema to trace how the written word and technology has affected how we see ourselves as instinctual creatures rather than just intellectual humans.

Driven by wonder, curiosity and a desire for balance between ecological and technological imperatives, Becoming Animal is an invitation to explore our relationship with this “more than human world” and recognise it for what it is: an exquisitely intricate system in which everything is alive and expressive. In our delicate ecosystem humans, animals and landscapes are inextricably interdependent, we do not stand alone and dominate.

Wandering through the part at night Abram feels a sudden sense of visceral communion with the birds, elks and bison. After watching a snail leaving its house, he touches a tree and comments “I feel the tree touching me.. I can feel how they see me from their perspective. Trees respond to shadow and light all the time. Touching them, I feel touched by them.” These observations are followed by a more long sequences, before we return to civilisation, and a monologue about how “the alphabet ended the unity between image and message. The alphabet has ended this status, because now, when people see letters, they become special property of humans”. Abstract messages like ‘Welcome’ and “We are erupting with savings” proves the point. Cut to a bison, who keeps some cars waiting on the road. The cars “are our shells for immortality.” And: “Technology always reflects back to ourselves, and we are beginning to interact with the technology.” We see a sign “Please check surroundings for safety” and Abrams concludes “these tools help us, to engage with nature”. Whilst fast-forward images of trees rush by, Abrams explains that “technology tries to undo the ancient relationship between men and nature” “Do we still have the awareness of the wind..Because by-products of our civilisation are dumped everywhere, and change the movement of the wind”.

This provocative and vibrantly evocative film is sometimes hampered by is puzzling messages that almost add to the existing confusion. In the end we get the point – but it could have been simpler without the psychobabble. AS

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