Transitions Film Festival 2019: Right Now’s top picks

By Caitlin Cassidy, Dinesha Perera, Zhenya Bourova and Liam Fallon
Burkinabe Rising
Transitions Film Festival

The 8th annual Transitions Film Festival leads the way into a better future, showcasing documentaries surrounding technological innovation, revolutionary change makers and engaging, cutting-edge ideas. Below, Right Now writers cover four documentaries screening at Transitions 2019.


The Ubuntu Project

Directed by Anna Davies

Review by Caitlin Cassidy

“Ubuntu” is a South African philosophy which loosely means “I am who I am because of who we all are,” or “I am because we are.” To follow Ubuntu is to believe in a universal bond, shared by humanity, and which connects us all. The Ubuntu Project is the result of Australian filmmakers Anna and Tom Davies round-the-world journey in 2013.

Disenfranchised with the smallness of their lives in Melbourne, the couple set off across continents to collect and share the stories of people with different backgrounds and experiences. To connect with their interviewees, the Davies asked them to reflect on their ideas of freedom, love, and lessons they have learned through the hardships and the highs of their diverse lives. The voices of this documentary are diverse – we meet survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, women who have lived through apartheid in South Africa, Kenyan children, Big Issue sellers in London, all with their own unique insight into what it means to live in our world and what we can learn from one another.

Connecting with these individuals, many of whom have overcome drug abuse or family trauma, plays out for the viewer as a celebration of our human-ness – something which is global and transcendent. Through the art of storytelling, the Davies give heart-warming insight into what our global community might look like, one that respects one another, one that listens, and one that understands, despite difference, the unity we share on the basis of our humanity.

The Ubuntu Project will screen at 12pm on Sunday 24th February. Tickets can be purchased here.

It Will Be Chaos

Directed by Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo

Review by Zhenya Bourova

In 2013, a boat carrying 518 asylum seekers capsized and sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa. The HBO documentary It Will Be Chaos opens in the aftermath of the tragedy, as grief-stricken families watch coffins being readied for transportation out of the island’s tiny port.

The film follows the stories of two asylum seekers who survived harrowing journeys by sea, only to face further obstacles to safety in an increasingly polarised Europe. Wael and his family are on their way to Germany, alongside hundreds of thousands of other Syrians displaced by air strikes and violence. Former Eritrean soldier Aregai, whose cousins perished in the Lampedusa tragedy, awaits a migration hearing before an Italian court.

Yet rather than focusing exclusively on the struggles of Wael and Aregai, the filmmakers insist on stepping back and letting in a multiplicity of voices – some sympathetic, and others less so. A woman holding a picket that contrasts with her black and white fedora and strings of pearls shouts over other voices in a crowd: “Journalists talk only about immigration! Never about the burden on the people of Lampedusa!” A young man holds up a Somalian flag as he stands between rows of beds, six all together, crammed into a room that resembles a shipping crate. “We can’t understand,” he says to the camera, “if we are prisoners or refugees.”

The multiplicity of perspectives in the film reflects the filmmakers’ ethic of portraying not only the gripping personal struggles of the main characters, but also the broader political and legal context. As director Filippo Piscopo said in an interview, “We understood that not only one person or one character could tell the immensity of the crisis and what was happening.”

It Will Be Chaos will screen at 6:15pm on Thursday 28 February. Tickets can be purchased here.

The Human Element

Directed by Matthew Testa

Review by Liam Fallon

Matthew Testa’s The Human Element might appear at first glance to follow the tried and true formula of environmental documentaries: a lowlight reel of unfathomable facts about our changing natural world, mixed in tidily with doomsday prophecies of how and when (very soon, if you weren’t aware) life on earth will become untenable. Like pioneers of the genre, such as An Inconvenient Truth, Testa’s film is indeed a warning of epic proportions, as we follow renowned climate change photographer James Balog on a harrowing journey through rising tides, pollution-filled air and fire-ravaged country. Yet The Human Element, like its title suggests, manages to capture the individual and community-level devastation of climate change with subtlety and honesty – something not always manifest in films of the genre.

The film investigates the conventional “elements” of the natural world. We see water lapping at the heels of residents of Tangier, in the eastern United States; the toxicity of our atmosphere and the associated health effects; the “new normal” of “megafires” in places like California; and the upturning of the earth in the pursuit of valuable subterranean substances. In all of these narratives, the responsibility of humans is undeniable.

Balog narrates this turbulence with foresight and contemplation, his words – and at-times haunting images – guiding us with weighted concern into an increasingly inexorable dystopia. As his career progressed, he opines: “I soon realised there was a more complex story going on in the world; about the collision between people and nature. And I felt a great sense of urgency to bear witness to that.”

The human connection is no more evident than toward the end of the film, when Balog takes us to the place of his own upbringing: coal country. Balog segues his family’s coal mining past into a survey of whole communities that rely heavily on the fossil fuel industry. In doing so, he is able to draw out a more nuanced understanding of the ways climate change affects societies. Sometimes, disruption comes in the form of a severance package, not an environmental disaster.

From this standpoint, the film unexpectedly leverages an optimistic final note. In one of these communities marred by global decline in demand for coal, the spaces abandoned by dirty industry offer new ground for the housing of renewables. In a world punished by humanity’s right hand, it is the left that can take action to curb the path to ruin.  

The Human Element will screen at 6:15pm on Friday 1st March. Tickets can be purchased here.

Burkinabè Rising: The art of resistance in Burkina Faso

Directed by Iara Lee

Review by Dinesha Perera

Burkinabè Rising is a Cultures of Resistance documentary interviewing a series of artists, cultural activists and ecologists of Burkina Faso in the wake of a popular uprising ousting a dictator who ruled the nation for 27 years. The Burkinabès interviewed devote their artistic and ecological pursuits towards building a strong, vibrant and just culture for Burkina Faso’s people. Their work is political in essence, but is built for the eyes, ears and minds of the people. In the words of one artist, “without the people we are nothing.”

The film opens with a series of aerial landscapes of the nation – urban, rural, and natural. The aerial perspective highlights the ordered patterns that would not be apparent at close range. These visuals are interwoven with select historic and demographic information about Burkino Faso. The introduction suggests the film is intended, at least in part, to be viewed by those of us outside of Burkina Faso; it appears as an invitation in.

As an outsider and in particular as an Australian, the take home message for me aligned with a conversation I had with a friend who migrated to Australia in her early twenties. In the face of my political resignation and despondency she became agitated and said, “You Australians, you are so convinced that nothing can change because you have never seen it. In my country we have seen it, we know it can happen so we fight.” This film is an opportunity for viewers to witness resistance in action, to know that change is possible, and to connect with its transformative power.

Burkinabè Rising will screen at 8:45pm on Tuesday 26th February. Tickets can be purchased here.

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