4 highlights from the Environmental Film Festival Australia

By Stephanie Griffin, Anika Baset, Samantha Jones and Rob Gilchrist
Tunnel Vision

The Environmental Film Festival Australia opens this Thursday, September 29th in Melbourne. During October the festival will travel to Canberra, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide. Here are four highlights from our reviewing team.

Tunnel Vision (Dir. Ivan Hexter)

Ivan Hexter’s Tunnel Vision documents the undoing of a controversial plan to build an 18-kilometre toll road in Melbourne, known as the East West Link road project (EWL).

The 2014 election was labelled a referendum on the EWL and the Liberal Premier, Dennis Napthine, was the unfortunate protagonist of the costly saga. This film tells the story from the perspective a mobilised community in the inner northern suburbs.

The audience is invited to witness a movement. A community outraged by the fact that Melbourne has spent decades tackling the issue of traffic congestion by building more roads. This time, instead of spending billions, destroying a large part of Royal Park and compulsorily acquiring residential homes, citizens demanded that the government invest in Public Transport.

Hexter compares the heavily constructed style of government sanctioned promotional footage against the raw, handheld recording of protest events. This technique does not glorify the citizen’s movement, but depicts the protesters as harbingers of truth. Scenes of confrontation between the police and the protesters are a symbol of the government’s power clashing against the people’s.

Overall, this film is an inspiring example of the influence that a grassroots democratic campaign can have in contemporary society.

– Stephanie Griffin

When Two Worlds Collide (Dir. Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel)

When Two Worlds Collide is a David and Goliath story between the indigenous communities of the Peruvian Amazon and a government set on exploiting the rainforest in the name of development. The livelihoods of ancient tribes are jeopardised when the government enacts a series of laws allowing multi-national resource companies to buy communal native lands. The two worlds collide, literally, when the indigenous communities forcefully protest against this violation of their rights, disrupting basic services to the entire country. The situation dramatically escalates into a political standoff, featuring police brutality and meaningless bloodshed on either side.

This is an unashamedly partisan documentary. Directors Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel drench stills of daily tribal life in rainforests in light, in jarring contrast with pitch-black oilrigs kilometres away. Alberto Pizango, the leader of the indigenous rights movement, is softened as the camera lingers on his face, while ominous music follows former President Alan Garcia every time he speaks. Through the use of persistent juxtaposition, the film seeks to redress the power imbalance inherent in any struggle between the State and its most vulnerable people.

When Two Worlds Collide exposes some uncomfortable truths about the ways public debate is allowed to determine the price of human life. In the current climate, where members of Parliament can openly demonise certain ethnic groups, this documentary serves as a timely reminder of the political motivations behind Othering minorities, and the costs of following these justifications blindly.

– Anika Baset

Sustainable (Dir. Annie Speicher & Matt Wechsler)

Sustainable is a documentary about a farmer in Illinois who wasn’t prepared to accept the current food system in America. Instead, Marty Travis Identifies that the richness in food is found not in monetary value but as a quality of life developed through relationships. He wants to farm sustainably, and to help his community reconnect with how their food is produced.

Segmenting the film into seasons, filmmakers Annie Speicher and Matt Wechsler break up Marty’s story with experts talking about the history of agriculture and its relationship with environmental damage. The filmmakers also spotlight Pioneers who share how they’ve developed sustainable options that produce better quality and quantity yields than ‘conventional’ agriculture. Combined, all elements of this film work together to get its message across: current food systems have to change.

While this documentary focuses mainly on agriculture in the USA, it does extend the relevance out into the rest of the world; sustainable and ethical agriculture concerns everyone. The United Nations Sustainability Goals, implemented in 2015, include sustainable food and agriculture. Connecting the message of this documentary with these goals, we can see that change comes down to individuals reconsidering their relationship with food and the actions they can take. Change starts in the mind, and Sustainable helps facilitate that introspection.

– Samantha Jones

Daughter of the Lake (Dir. Ernesto Cabellos)

In the trailer for Daughter of the Lake, it’s stated that ‘the world doesn’t belong to you; you belong to the world’. This indigenous Peruvian saying is incredibly appropriate. Director Ernesto Cabellos Damián demonstrates how corporations use threats, violence and coercion to take resources from native inhabitants while destroying their sacred places. Set in the Peruvian Andes, where the lakes and farms sit above billions of dollars’ worth of gold, Daughter of the Lake looks at the powerful disconnect between the mining community and those who buy the jewellery they help produce.

By contrasting the experience of this community with that of a Dutch jeweller, Cabellos highlights how utterly destructive the global jewel and mineral markets are. For generations, communities have lived by Blue Lake in the Andes, basking in the spiritual aura of its vastness. For these people, the total destruction of, and detachment from, their natural environment is incomprehensible. Yet, not everybody feels this way. For the government and the corporations that it supports, the lake and farmland are obstacles to major gold deposits, which must be overcome by force and manipulation.

A lawyer in training, Nelida begins protesting against this injustice. Her father is fired by the mine. Ordinarily, these rural Peruvian people are voiceless and beaten into submission, yet Daughter of the Lake gives them a forum to bring this reality to the larger world.

This confronting movie raises crucial issues that must be addressed and yet are often ignored. Is access to profits more important than access to water? Do the status symbols of some outweigh the livelihood of others? Cabellos uses the spiritual connection of the locals with ‘Mother Water’ to show that some things are more important than money. This movie is powerful and persuasive, creating food for thought and hopefully contributing to a change in corporate practices.

– Rob Gilchrist


View the complete Environmental Film Festival Australia program on the EFFA website


Review – Renewal: Five Paths to a Fairer Australia

By Georgia Cerni

Sophie Cousins’ book Renewal: Five Paths to a Fairer Australia is, in many respects, a proposal. For Cousins, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided Australians with an opportunity to reconsider the ways our society currently functions. Cousins aptly makes her case – while in some ways the pandemic reinforced burgeoning inequalities, it also presented us the chance to apply collectivist values to solve systemic problems.