Below are Right Now’s top picks for the 2016 Transitions Film Festival – featuring a diverse array of films touching on the global aid industry, consumption patterns, the gender employment gap, and much more.
Poverty, Inc. | Michael Matheson Miller
Film review by Pia White
Michael Matheson Miller’s Poverty, Inc. provides a cogent overview of the machinery of the global aid industry. It posits that foreign aid has never successfully propelled a nation into the developed world and asks why we are so unwilling to redesign a system that only serves those who benefit from the status quo, instead of those it is meant to assist.
The film includes interviews with a number of subjects: observers, critics and ‘beneficiaries’ of the global aid industry. Many of the interviewees who come from foreign aid recipient countries graciously acknowledge that there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to help, but explain that good intentions don’t always ensure a good outcome.
They discuss numerous examples of how foreign aid can disrupt local economies, crippling small and medium-sized businesses and stifling innovation. These examples range from the widely known case of how US rice imports destroyed indigenous agriculture in Haiti, to the more localised example of the Rwandan egg farmer who was driven out of business by a sudden and short-lived influx of American-donated eggs.
In place of paternalistic charity streams, the film’s subjects emphasise the benefits of partnerships and connections to the global economy. They point out that the aid industry narrative, which paints the impoverished as helpless and hopeless, is disempowering and damaging. In fact, the most disenfranchised are perfectly capable agents of change, if only given the space and support to do so.
Two Raging Grannies | Håvard Bustnes
Film review by Samantha Jones
We live in a consumerist society of bigger, better, more. We are even told it helps the economy grow. But is this realistic or sustainable? Shirley, 90, and Hinda, 84, ‘two raging grannies’, aren’t convinced that economic growth is either, especially when we are using up all our natural resources.
Playing up ‘innocent little old lady’ personas, the tight-knit duo from Seattle take us on a comical journey as they set out on their mobility scooters to find answers and inspire change in the world their grandchildren live in.
Ignored, kicked out of university classrooms, given conflicting information, and threatened with violence after hijacking an A-list Wall Street dinner, the self-determined women don’t give up. And more endearingly, they don’t give up on each other either, despite their challenges and differences in opinion.
Norwegian director Håvard Bustnes gives us a lot to reflect on with this documentary, including old age and the natural limits of existence, while at the same time expounding on what it is to live.
Accompanied by powerful cinematography by Viggo Knudsen and editing by Anders Teigen, the documentary also highlights what is lost in the current system: appreciation of the natural world, family, friendship and community.
In the end, Shirley and Hinda come to the conclusion that economic growth is not the solution; it is the problem. There is a clear need for the alternative: a ‘steady state economy’, which Hinda calls common sense.
Her reasoning spans across the following: 1. We can’t use renewable resources faster than they can renew themselves. 2. We can’t put waste into the system faster than it can be absorbed. 3. We can’t use non-renewable resources faster than we develop substitutes.
Two Raging Grannies is a thought-provoking documentary that encourages the viewer to think deeper about consumption and to make conscientious decisions. After all, it is us who make up the system and it is us who have to live with the consequences.
Code: Debugging the Gender Gap | Robin Hauser Reynolds
Film review by Heath Chamerski
One thing that I have noticed, when scanning the credits of hundreds of video games over the years, is how few women are listed among the game’s coders, designers and graphic artists.
In an age when seemingly everyone has a technological device on hand 24/7 and a keen interest in apps, gaming and cutting edge technology, the compelling documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap examines why women make up just 18 per cent of graduates from computer science courses and why they are an even lesser percentage of employees in the computer science field.
Anchored by interviews with an impressive group of women who have made names for themselves in the traditionally male-dominated tech sphere by working for companies such as Facebook, Pinterest, Airbnb, ETSY, Pixar and Yelp, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap shines a light on the often disturbing challenges women face when forging a career in this industry.
Despite offering a largely US-focused view of the situation, the documentary is certainly relevant to the entire world and acts as an impassioned plea for more diversity in the industry. But with only 10 per cent of US schools offering computer science as a course option, it is an uphill battle to even things out.
Code: Debugging the Gender Gap draws attention to the ‘blokey’ culture of the computing world and the incredibly sexist things that go on, even in this day and age. The documentary also underlines that massive changes are needed before more women consider the computer industry as a sector they want to be a part of. As CEO of the Glimpse app, Elissa Shevinsky, points out: who would choose to be part of an industry that promises to “sexually harass and not fund them?”
From a historical perspective, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap teaches us this gender imbalance has had serious consequences on technical innovations. A tragic example cited in the documentary explains how the all-male team who designed the first car airbag designed it specifically for males, not taking women or children into account, which led to the innovation not being as initially effective in saving lives as expected.
But thanks to the positive work of people like Pixar director of photography Danielle Feinberg, an amazing role model who visits schools and teaches students that computer science and programming can be for everyone, the documentary leaves viewers with the hope that this regrettable imbalance will one day be a relic of the past.
Anthropocene | Steve Bradshaw
Film review by Christieanna Ozorio
This documentary focuses on the history and future of the ‘anthropocene’, the geological era that we are currently in – an era in which mankind’s activities have left permanent etchings on the skin of the Earth that geologists centuries from now will see. It revolves around the findings of the UN Working Group that set out to determine whether this is true.
Anthropocene is perfect for those with an environmental, historical, or scientific background. The topic is accessible to everyone, however, as it charts the carbon footprint of mankind, back to the early indigenous peoples of Australia and Africa, all the way through to the Industrial Revolution and the World Wars. The Working Group explains how even the smallest developments, such as controlled burning, has left a mark.
Using interviews, original footage, and some beautiful cinematography, this documentary is a good all-round insight into the science of climate change and its relationship with societal progress, explained in terms of technological advances, political maneuverings, and scientific breakthroughs.
The Price We Pay | Harold Crookd
Film review by Christieanna Ozorio
If you are looking for ‘The Financial System and its Dark Secrets for Dummies’, The Price We Pay is an honest and holistic depiction of the global financial system and corporate misdeeds.
Instead of the well-worn investigations into the GFC and the way the US Government bailed investment banks out because they were “too big to lose”, this documentary focuses on London, and the fascinating vestiges of British imperialism that go largely unnoticed by those unaware. This refers to the vast amounts of money kept in Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and the like; the ‘double Irish’ method of moving money globally in order to avoid domestic tax; and the interesting relationship between huge corporations, government, and the taxpaying citizen.
Not an easy film to swallow, The Price We Pay leaves you with the uncomfortable realisation that the top 1 per cent are getting away with murder while the ordinary taxpayer bears the brunt. It is a must-watch documentary for anyone who wants the wool pulled from their eyes, and is interested in the world of corporate tax evasion and white-collar crime.
Overburden | Chad A. Steven
Film review by Samaya Borom
In West Virginia, an entire community has united to fight against a mining corporation that wants to destroy Coal River Mountain to mine coal. The alternative is a wind farm that will power the region; however political support is thin and the coal company has resources to fight the community. Chad A. Steven’s Overburden is the story of a community fighting for the survival of their town.
In mining, ‘overburden’ refers to the rock, soil and ecosystem that exist above the coal. It is something that mining companies remove to access the coal seams. The devastation on the environment is enormous as it forever changes the landscape.
Residents of Coal River Mountain sense that coal mining, once a stable employer for many generations, is coming to an end and that they must find greener alternatives – not only for the sake of the environment, but for the sake of their town. Other members of the town are staunchly against anything but coal-driven employment.
Steven brings together a pro-mining advocate and an anti-mining advocate, whose experiences of the mines propel the story forward, with both identifying that a diversified economy is the new middle ground. Overburden is a must see for those interested in grassroots activism and the effect it can have on community-led outcomes.
The Transitions Film Festival is taking place in Melbourne from 18 February to 3 March and in Adelaide from 20 to 29 May.