V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Zooming in on the planet

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers November, 2008.

Deep in the bowels of the earth exists a crystalline underworld oblivious to the goings-on above.

The Lechuguilla Cave in southeastern New Mexico is the deepest cave in the U.S., diving about 500 metres down and has been forming quietly on its own for thousands of years.

In the BBC project Planet Earth, filmmakers brought us rare footage of the aptly named Chandelier Ballroom, where gypsum crystals as long as six metres spike out from the walls in an ethereal display, a sight that producer Huw Cordey described as "other-worldly."

It took two years to negotiate permission to film in these restrictive caves, and the film crew was told it would likely be the last to do so.

But the footage is breathtaking and I, a little begrudgingly, admit that the written word has its limitations compared to the visual impact of film.

In the last few years, the documentary has become a powerful vehicle for conveying the environmental message. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is stating the obvious, the film largely credited for pushing the movement from the fringes into mainstream society.

But before Gore made environmentalism the cause du jour, Toronto-based organization Planet in Focus had already been capitalizing on the power of film to tell an important story.

"Film is recognized as the most powerful and most visceral way to communicate to individuals," said Candida Paltiel, artistic director of the recently held international environmental film festival. "It's able to tell stories to the masses, convey larger planetary stories and is an incredibly powerful way to impact an audience."

At this year's ninth annual Planet in Focus, which wrapped up last week, organizers whittled down 500 international submissions to 100, with a thematic emphasis on food as "the big picture."

The five-day film festival attracted about 7,000 viewers, challenging us to think about everything from the ubiquitous use of plastic, to the freshwater scarcity crisis, to the food we eat and the airplane air we breathe.

"We're not there to cater to a passive audience," Paltiel said. "We want to engender debates and change ideas."

Over the years, submitted films have become more "proactive" adds co-ordinator Myan Marcen Gaudaur, which propose solutions to problems.

"A lot of films are visual essays," she said. "Filmmakers recognize they can communicate information well on film."

The organization operates year-round, with a Cross-Canada Tour program that will package films for viewing in communities, schools or organizations. Planet in Focus boasts the largest archive of environmental films in North America with over 2,200 titles from 80 countries.

Here are some films that resonated with me either at the festival or through my own viewing. Visit planetinfocus.org for more information.

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MOVIES TO GET STARTED ON

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: ORGANICHERO OR BIOTERRORIST?


Filmmaker: Norman Lofts

For 20 years, farmer Michael Schmidt has defied the law, selling raw, unpasteurized milk to Ontario residents. He made recent headlines for continuing to defy a court order that banned him from selling his products. Cow-share members swear by its nutritional value, some crediting raw milk for curing ailments, while scientists and public health agencies warn of the increased risk of disease and illness. The issue: People should have a right to choose, Schmidt says.

Accolades: Winner the Canadian Long Form Award at Planet in Focus festival.

www.planetinfocus.org (see link)

F.L.O.W. FOR LOVE OF WATER

Filmmaker: Irena Salinas

A stunningly beautiful film that will haunt you with the global freshwater crisis and the emergence of "a world water cartel" working to privatize dwindlng fresh water supply. Canada's water crusader Maude Barlow, recently tapped as the United Nations senior advisor on water, gives several interviews for the film. Called "the scariest movie at the Sundance film festival" by Wired magazine, F.L.O.W will hit you hard in the gut with its mix of sublime imagery and the urgency of its message.

Accolades: Won Best Documentary at the United National Association Film Festival, and Vail International Film Festival.

www.flowthefilm.com

ADDICTED TO PLASTIC

Filmmaker: Ian Connacher

A Toronto-based filmmaker takes us around the world showing us how our addiction to plastic ends up in the intestinal tracts of marine life thousands of miles from shore in the ocean deep, pollutes our planet and can cause cancer in humans.

"The cheapest, strongest most ubiquitous material ever invented, that might be quietly poisoning us," Connacher says as he takes us on a historical journey chronicling the evolution of plastic and our disposable society.

According to the UN, there are 4,600 pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean. An in-depth look at our synthetic society, the film has its moments of animated levity and offers some innovative solutions to a worldwide problem.

www.crypticmoth.com

WELCOME ABOARD TOXIC AIRLINES

Filmmaker: Tristan Lorraine

Former airline captain Tristan Lorraine takes on the airline industry in this disturbing film which seeks to expose the "full-scale cover up" of contaminated air incidents onboard commercial flights.

One after another, cabin crew and passengers show cameras how poisonous fumes from engine oil known as "bleed air," which enters cabins unfiltered, have wrought neurological damage on their health. The Australian senate has been tackling the issue and is now being discussed on British airwaves. A hard hitting piece of investigative journalism.

www.welcomeaboardtoxicairlines.com

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