High-octane brain fuel at the Ecofilms festival

Zipping into Rhodes for a two-day injection of brain fuel at the six-day Ecofilms festival inevitably necessitated missing some high-octane fare, including most of the award winners. But even an abbreviated sample proved stimulating. Fortunately, the organizers interpret films about the environment broadly. Where else might one catch an ostensibly poker-faced paean to the Baath regime of Syria that delivers a subtle, subversive message back to back with a tribute to Letizia Battaglia, a Sicilian news photographer who started a risky anti-Mafia campaign, followed by a film on ants? The link between such diverse issues and the environment is that «we are the world we live in,» says Ecofilms president and MedWest coordinator Spyros Kouvelis. This enlarged perception of the world and our place in it, coupled with the opportunity to share ideas in a laid-back atmosphere, is the recipe for the festival’s ongoing success and confirmation of the wisdom of holding it away in a space that guarantees mingling. Informal gatherings, like the wine and cheese party offered by the Canadian Embassy, buzzed with the exchange of ideas. Some of the films raised issues about the ethics of making documentaries. The producer of «Czech Dream» found himself fielding questions about how a film made with funds from the Czech Culture Ministry could set up what amounted to a scam. Would-be customers were lured to the site of a make-believe supermarket in the hope of getting good discounts. The disillusionment of some spilled over into their vote on EU membership, heavily advertised at just the same time, by «a happy coincidence.» Katarina Peters daringly crosses the line between fiction and documentary with her use of intensely private material in «Stroke,» a film about her musician husband Boris Baberkoff’s sudden illness, his slow, painful semi-recovery and her response to it – shot on mini-DV as it happened and later mixed with fantasy scenes of her dreams – tell a moving but often painful story. Baberkoff’s cameo performance on his cello after the film’s two screenings wrung emotional responses from the audience. «Stroke» hints at one way forward for documentary film. Some films made their impact with exceptional subject matter rather than innovative methods. «Control Room,» filmed at Al Jazeera and the coalition forces’ Central Command, presents familiar material from a point of view that few outside the Arab world have heard. Inclusion of graphic scenes of violence regularly served up to the station’s viewers raises complex ethical concerns. «A Decent Factory» follows a team of investigators at a Nokia supplier in China and asks uncomfortable questions about cheap goods produced abroad in conditions Western workers would not tolerate. And that was just a taste of what Ecofilms had to offer. See tomorrow’s paper for interviews with two documentary filmmakers who have very different approaches: Kai Nordberg and Erez T. Yanuv Barzilay. The 2005 award winners The Ecofilms festival awards were announced Saturday. «Shipbreakers,» Canadian filmmaker Michael Kot’s portrayal of a maritime graveyard in India, won the Golden Deer and 7,000 euros for the best feature-length film. The jury praised it as a resounding account of globalization’s effects on humans and the environment. The Silver Deer in the same category, and the 5,000-euro prize, went to «Carpatia» by directors Andrej Klamt and Ulrich Rydzewksi, for «captivating us with superb photography that presents a relatively unknown aspect of Europe.» «The Woman Who Missed Home» by Eleni Alexandraki and «Stroke» by Katarina Peters won special mentions. In the short-films section, jurors awarded the 5,000-euro Gold Deer to «A Flood in Baath Country» by Omar Amiralay, for its penetrating depiction of sociopolitical reality in Syria. The 3,500-euro Silver Deer went to Wolfgang Thaler for his film «Ants: Nature’s Secret Power» as «an original contribution to scientific documentary.» Ramsar Convention General Secretary Peter Bridgewater handed over the 4,000-euro MedWet/Ramsar award for the best film about water and wetlands to «The Veil of Berta» by Esteban Larrain. The Rhodes Cinema Club made two awards. «Monte Grande» by Franz Reichle took the full-length feature award, while «Orgasmo» by Pablo Oliviero and «Concrete Revolution» by Xiaolu Guo won special mentions. The short-film award was won by Andres Jarach for «Smoking Kills,» while special mentions went to «Pilala» by Theo Papadopoulakis and «Breaking Away from the Box» by Ywe Jalander.

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