Ecocinema brings together films and environment

RHODES – «The Whale Rider,» a New Zealander-German co-production that recently whizzed through Athens almost unnoticed, made a fitting start to the Ecocinema film festival on Rhodes last Tuesday. Ecocinema, a festival of documentaries about the environment that ended yesterday, screened the film out of competition as part of its tribute to indigenous peoples. The story of a young Maori girl and her quest for her own role in her culture – an extraordinary performance for which Keisha Castle-Hughes won an Oscar nomination, the youngest actor ever to do so – highlights the profound connection between indigenous peoples and the land, and their emphasis on communal endeavor, foreshadowing themes that were reiterated throughout the festival, and explored in Saturday’s round-table discussion on indigenous people in the era of globalization. Several films owed much of their impact to charismatic characters they portrayed. «Bilby Brothers: The Men Who Killed the Easter Bunny,» an Australian film that shows how two unusual men manage to save a species on the verge of extinction, is a happy combination of a good story, two unexpectedly telegenic oddballs, an amusing voice-over narration and an exemplary environmental campaign. Similarly, Dieter Hoss’s film «Homeland,» set in the southern Tyrol, is stolen by one protagonist, a feisty 80-year-old woman who does all the work in the old way on her farm. And in Hjalmtyr Heiddal’s «The Old Whetstone,» an eccentric Icelander pursues a traditional lifestyle on his vast farm in an area long since deserted by other residents, collecting driftwood and eiderdown and killing seals. Other works were notable for innovative flair. Joe King’s short film «Survey» achieves precisely what its British maker set out to do: «Unlike most animated films,» says King, «it is not about observing movement but about creating it.» His images of wind turbines, lighthouses and other man-made structures succeed each other at dizzying speed, expanding, collapsing and multiplying to vertiginous effect, creating a frenetic visual and aural rhythm. Dutch photojournalist Harrie Timmermans’s first film, «Howrah Station – Calcutta,» wisely dispenses with narration and allows the images, brilliantly edited and played against the genuine sounds captured on his video camera, to speak for themselves in his video essay on a teeming Indian railway station. Among the feature-length films made on larger budgets, British documentary maker Archie Baron’s «Motherland: A Genetic Journey» and the American Paul Devlin’s «Power Trip» stood out. Both have already reached mass audiences and won several awards. Baron told the press how his film, which he sees as emphasizing the connections between people, had sparked opposing reactions – either from people wanting to take the genetic test on which his film is based and which helps them trace part of their maternal DNA back to their African origins, or from others objecting that such tests would lead to more categorization based on race. Devlin captures an extraordinary moment with his film about the antics of an American multinational that bought up the electricity utility in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and of the consumers who try to outwit the company’s attempt to make them pay high prices for a commodity they used to get free, all against the backdrop of civil unrest. Now in its fourth year, Ecocinema – run by Cinema and Environment, a non-profit organization – has grown fast, though it relies heavily on the hard work of a few dedicated people. It receives funding from the municipality and prefecture of Rhodes. Mayor Giorgos Yiannopoulos, who gave a reception for participants Wednesday, wants the festival to make its home permanently on the island. Ecocinema president Ilias Efthymiopoulos told Kathimerini English Edition: «Fifty percent of the audience is from Rhodes, Athens and other Greek cities. We need to persuade tour agencies to address new types of visitors, and to sell packages that include cultural events like the festival.» Spreading the message wider means selling films and that means inviting distributors – several were in attendance this year, the festival’s artistic director Loukia Rikaki told Kathimerini English Edition – and commissioning agents. Without losing its friendly, laid-back style, the festival could be even more effective by introducing practices employed at other such events. Veterans of the festival circuit asked for suggestions told Kathimerini English Edition they would like to have a guest list to put filmmakers and potential buyers in touch; more events to introduce people to each other, like the buffet offered by the Canadian Embassy; multiple screenings and viewing facilities where missed films can be seen on VHS; and invitations to the commissioning agents who will get their work to the public. And what about giving some help to teachers to prepare schoolchildren to get the most out of the films they attend?