Right Now’s 2018 Transitions Film Festival Picks

By Heath Chamerski, Rachael Imam and Christopher Ringrose
Thank You for the Rain

The 2018 Transitions Film Festival presents a program of solutions-focused films that address the complex challenges of our times. We review three films that explore where society and environment intersect.

Transitions Film Festival tours nationally from February to May 2018.

Unfractured | Chanda Chevannes
Review by Heath Chamerski

The insidious practice of fracking has been a hot button issue for much of the decade, and Unfractured puts us right on the frontline of the anti-fracking movement, as we follow biologist Sandra Steingraber, who becomes a leading figure in the fight against fracking.

Steingraber is fearless as she battles the gas industry’s attempts to extract natural gas from the Earth, primarily in New York State’s Seneca Lake. But her strong opposition to the practice also takes her to Romania, where she sees the scale of the issue on the world stage.

Director Chanda Chevannes’s documentary is surprising in that it is, at heart, the personal story of Steingraber herself and not the issue of fracking at large. Steingraber is facing another battle at home, with her husband Jeff suffering a series of mysterious strokes and frequently hospitalised.

While Steingraber puts on a brave face, she is placed under an incredible amount of pressure caring for her ailing husband while striving to be a powerful voice for the anti-fracking movement. Unfractured is a persuasive portrait of an extraordinary woman, whose strength and dignity in the face of adversity lifts the spirits of everyone that encounters her.

Steingraber allows generous access to both her public and private lives, giving viewers a vivid impression of her character and resilience. With a sturdy narrative structure and an inspirational central subject, Unfractured is an unhurried, quietly powerful documentary that puts a very human face on this global issue.

Unfractured screens in Melbourne on Tuesday 27 February at 8:45pm at Cinema Nova and in Brisbane on Saturday 24 March at 6:30pm at New Farm Cinemas.

Within Formal Cities | Brian Gaudio and Abe Drechsler
Review by Christopher Ringrose

Carolina State University Architecture interns Brian Gaudio and Abe Drechsler visit five South American cities – Lima, Bogotá, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago – in search of innovative architecture and design. Their film, Within Formal Cities, documents the lives of disadvantaged people, but goes well beyond travelogue in its series of interviews with residents, community leaders and architects; its focus on specific projects; and its interrogation of the ethics of architecture.

You don’t have to be a student of architecture to enjoy and learn from this documentary. It presents the lives of less affluent city dwellers without being patronising or glib. Gaudio and Drechsler are engaging guides, who listen attentively to intelligent people and showcase inventive strategies for urban living.

To begin, Gaudio and Drechsler encourage US architects to discuss the lack of ethical debate within their profession. The middle section, “Participation” as it has been named, then shows how hierarchies between architects and clients can be challenged when residents contribute to the design process, as in the housing project La Renca, discussed here with Chilean architecture firm, ELEMENTAL, and community leader Ana Lamilla. The final section, “Architecture as a Tool for Social Change”, showcases specific projects, including those of Bogotá firm El Equipo Mazzanti; El Porvenir Social Kindergarten, built for children who experience domestic violence; and the football facility Hope Forest, where a tree canopy made of metal embodies and triggers community pride.

Issues of funding for public housing are only touched on lightly, but the film remains realistic as well as inspiring, giving space to the hospitable residents of the barrios themselves as well as to architects. It’s fast-moving and full of visual interest.

Within Formal Cities screens in Melbourne on Wednesday 28 February at 6:15pm at Cinema Nova.

Thank You for the Rain | Julia Dahr
Review by Rachael Imam

On their small plot of land in rural Kenya, farming couple Kisilu Musya and Christina Wayua Kisilu spend their days watching the skies. Dramatic changes in the climate have brought seasons of unprecedented drought, where the difference between having food and going hungry, between life and death, is dependent on the coming of rain. Like millions of smallholder farmers around the world, their lives and the lives of their children are almost solely determined by the whims of the weather.

When Norwegian director Julia Dahr met Kisilu, Kisilu was at the beginning of a five-year fight for climate justice that would take him from the churches and schoolrooms of his local communities to the great hall of the United Nations climate talks in Paris. Their film, Thank You for the Rain is a unique collaborative documentation of Kisilu’s experiences. Each with their own camera, Dahr and Kisilu provide both an insider’s and an outsider’s perspective on the real-world impacts of climate change, and the efforts of those who are on the frontline of this international environmental crisis.

A very personal take on a global issue, Thank You for the Rain shows us the determination, disillusionment, humour and hope of one Kenyan farmer who is trying to make a difference.

Thank You for the Rain screens in Melbourne on Thursday 1 March at 8:15pm at Cinema Nova.


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.