Planet in Focus 2009: Toward a 20/20 Vision

Wednesday, 18 November 2009, 19:38 | Category : Movie Reviews, Musings, Uncategorized
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The end of October brought me to the tenth annual Planet in Focus environmental film and video festival held here in Toronto.

I can’t say enough good things about this yet-untapped gem. While undoubtedly bigger this year, it still hasn’t reached the proportions of some of the other better-known, and longer-running local film fests. That’s fine by me – fewer lineups and opportunities to catch fantastic and lesser-known international docs.

This year, to commemorate the tenth milestone, the theme was: “Fast Forward Toward a 20/20 Vision”.  

Couldn’t help but notice a common thread running through my top picks; the films all revolved around kids (appropriate, considering they’re setting the tone for our collective tomorrow).  These picks are:

Campesinos… We Will Inherit the Earth

 Delectable things grow in Central America: nuts, coffee, chocolate – and the articulate words of the children who help harvest them. Jernier howls with howler monkeys as he harvests coffee in Nicaragua, Duly demonstrates how children break open macadamia nuts on each other heads in Guatemala, and Paul explains how to grow bananas and cacao organically in Costa Rica. Balancing school with the crop cycles of their families, these children do no only inherit the earth, but the sustainable farming methods of the cooperatives their families belong to. Fair Trade at your local store takes on a new meaning when harvesting is an activity that draws these families together. Farmers live and die by the weather and these children are smart enough to know the impact of climate change on their crops. Duly, Paul and Jernier are mirrors of their community and show how sustainable cooperative farming can improve their quality of life.

  School on the Move

The Evenk are the nomadic aboriginal guardians of the Taiga, located in eastern Siberia. They traverse this terrain with their beloved reindeer herds. School on the Move documents the attempt of these unique people to preserve their cultural traditions with the support of anthropologist Alexandra Lavriller. Shot on the move, the film wistfully portrays the Evenk as they retain their language and age old habits amidst encroaching contemporary demands.

 Marina of the Zabbaleen

The Zabbaleen are a culture of Coptic Christians living in Egypt, who make a living through garbage collection and recycling. With a fluid, impressionistic style worthy of Kiarostami, this film gives a close-up look at the daily life of one Zabbaleen family, at the center of which is Marina, a young girl with luminous eyes, who hopes to one day become a doctor. Deeply empathic, rich in symbolism and filled with unforgettable scenes – a wrenching confrontation with a cruel landlady, a visit to a massive church carved out of the side of a mountain – Marina of the Zabbaleen is a haunting film that unwinds with the rhythms of a religious ritual. It is both a document of social stratification in Egypt, and an artwork of transcendent beauty.

Missed this year’s fest? No need to wait around until next year. Planet in Focus also puts on Mixed Greens Monthly Screenings, among other initiatives. You might just see me there…


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