Planet in Focus is a charitable organization that uses film to raise awareness and spark change regarding “critical environmental issues through a variety of media-based initiatives.” The organization’s Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival (PIF) kicks off next week, and unless you’re the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type, now’s the perfect time to get familiar with the line-up.
PIF, now in its 20th year, runs from Tuesday, October 15th until Sunday the 20th. The Opening Night Gala takes place at The Royal Cinema on October 15th and will screen Brett Story ’s The Hottest August – one of several Canadian highlights in the program. The Closing Night Gala takes place at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema and will screen Louie Psihoyos’ harrowing 2009 doc, The Cove. That Shelf has provided a full list of what’s screening at PIF below.
OPENING NIGHT GALA
THE HOTTEST AUGUST | Brett Story | Canada/USA | 2019 | 95min | Documentary The singular second feature from Toronto filmmaker Brett Story is an arresting mirror of our moment—a film about climate change in a clandestine guise. Shot in New York City throughout August 2017, Story’s slyly dystopic documentary at first exhibits no specific concern. Roving the city’s five boroughs with her camera in tow, she pauses to quiz passersby on their feelings about the future. Being New Yorkers, their responses are frank, funny, and reliably engaging: racism, rising rents, and Trump are just a few of the topics occupying their minds. Only rarely do Story’s subjects explicitly address the climate crisis. But, tellingly, they don’t have to. Their testimonies are a multi-voiced articulation of a shared sense of foreboding, as familiar to us in the audience as to those who appear screen.
CLOSING NIGHT GALA
THE COVE | Louie Psihoyos | United States | 2009 | 92min Among the most acclaimed documentaries of all time, Oscar-winner The Cove became an international sensation upon its release in 2009. Hailed as a real life eco-thriller, it told the riveting story of a team of conservationists and their covert mission to expose a bloody dolphin cull, carried out annually in an isolated inlet in Taiji, Japan. Provocatively fusing investigative journalism, fearless activism, and state-of-the-art filmmaking, its revelations both shocked audiences and inspired them to action. A decade on, Planet in Focus is proud to screen the film in honour of its 10 th anniversary, and in tribute to its director, 2019 International Eco Hero Louie Psihoyos.
20-22 OMEGA | Thierry Loa | Canada | 2018 | 111min Drawing inspiration from Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy , 20-22 Omega is a feast for the senses, kaleidoscopically fusing sound and image to survey life in the Anthropocene. Filmed over 5 years on majestic black-and-white celluloid stock, the debut feature from Montreal visual artist Thierry Loa is contemporary take of the city symphony, spanning 100 locations that range from the mundane (Toronto’s Eaton Centre) to the mind-blowing (cavernous assembly facilities ‘manned’ by multi-limbed robots). Accompanying Loa’s gorgeously textured images is an equally dynamic soundtrack, comprised of rich organs, sonorous choral music, and Inuit throat singing. The resulting juxtapositions are nearly hypnotic in their effect, enveloping viewers and inviting them to ponder the impacts of our transformative human epoch.
ANIMALS AND OTHER PEOPLE | Flavio Marchetti | Austria | German | 2017 | 88min A subtle work of profound empathy, Animals and Other People is a profile of the Vienna Animal Shelter and its inhabitants of all species. Taking cues from the patient institutional portraiture of Fredrick Wiseman, filmmaker Flavio Marchetti demonstrates a keen and compassionate eye as he documents daily routines within the remarkable facility. With a history dating back more than 170 years, the shelter is now home to over 1000 creatures great and small, from pigeons, to pugs, to chimpanzees. The shelter’s staff show equal sensitivity and devotion to all the charges in their care, seeking to alleviate their distresses both physical and psychological. All the while, Marchetti’s gently insistent gaze urges us to consider our sense of kinship to our fellow members of Kingdom Animalia.
ARTIFISHAL | Josh Murphy | 75min How is it that putting more fish in a natural waterway can ultimately result in fewer fish to catch? That is the puzzle at the heart of the Patagonia-produced Artifishal , a film about the ways in which hatcheries and farms have inadvertently triggered dramatic declines in the stocks of wild salmon. The issue is particularly acute in the Pacific Northwest, where, in addition to their economic and cultural value, wild salmon are a keystone species, critical to the maintenance of natural ecosystems. But the past century has seen their stocks diminish by as much as 40%, a process paradoxically accelerated by attempts to harvest salmon more sustainably. Urgent and richly informative, Artifishal reveals how these efforts have backfired, and how consumers can play a role in reversing these consequences.
COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE | Judith Helfand | United States | English | 2018 | 82min In July of 1995, Chicago suffered a heat wave of catastrophic intensity, resulting in a staggering death toll. A total of 739 Chicagoans lost their lives, with elderly, impoverished, and African American denizens disproportionally represented among the victims. In Cooked , playfully provocative documentarian Judith Helfand draws on these tragic circumstances as the inspiration for a wider investigation into poverty, race, and why marginalized communities tend to bear the brunt of the extreme weather events, which are growing ever more frequent with the advance of climate change. Helfand also delves into the booming ‘disaster preparedness’ industry, where the price tags of preventative measures tend to exclude all but the privileged.
EARTH | Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria | 2019 | 115min Provocative and visually stunning, Earth is a globe-spanning tour of destinations drastically altered by human excavation. Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter (whose Homo Sapiens played Planet in Focus in 2017) trains his painterly camera on mines, quarries, and large scale excavation sites, as well as the people who labour within them. The remarkable scale of his compositions captures the colossal impact of mankind’s endeavours, while the testimonies of the workers provide thoughtful and ambivalent insight into our relationship with our planet and its resources. As some grapple with their role, others have few qualms about altering the Earth in drastic ways. Geyrhalter’s minimalist approach exploits this tension for maximum effect, inviting us to take in his powerful images and to draw our own conclusions.
HOW TO BEE | Naomi Mark | English | 2018 | 82min When documentarian Naomi Mark discovered her father, Don, had been diagnosed with a degenerative lung disease, she sought a means to maximize their remaining time together. Specifically, she asked him to teach her how to follow in his footsteps as one of the Yukon’s most prolific keepers of bees. Wanting, too, to preserve those moments and ultimately to share the story of his remarkable life, she also began to film. The result is the highly personal and deeply moving How to Bee , which captures Naomi’s endeavor to cultivate her own apiary, in tandem with her attempts to absorb her father’s wisdom and his striking capacity to commune with nature. Despite harsh conditions, countless stings, and Don’s flagging health, Naomi persists for three years. The fruits of her efforts, her first feature film, are beautifully bittersweet.
THE LAST MALE ON EARTH | Floor Van Der Meulen | Netherlands | 2019 | 72min Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, died in March of 2018, propelling his species to the very precipice of extinction. Stylish, moving, and surprisingly droll, The Last Male on Earth is the story of his final years, as related by the humans that surrounded him in the Kenyan wildlife sanctuary that was his home. Making a deft feature debut, director Floor Van Der Meulen wryly surveys a varied cast of characters, including the keeper who considered Sudan to be one of his best friends, the armed bodyguards who trained diligently to protect him, journalists who penned dispatches of his plight, tourists drawn to bid farewell, and the scientists and conservationists who believe they might just be able to resurrect Sudan’s kind from the dead.
LOSING ALASKA | Tom Burke | English | 2018 | 81min In the tight-knit, primarily Yup’ik village of Newtok, Alaska, there persists a strong connection to traditional livelihoods, rooted in the land the community’s ancestors have long occupied. But that land is quite literally disappearing before their eyes, thanks to climbing temperatures that have accelerated rates of coastal erosion to as much 50 feet per year. As Newtok faces the prospect of relocation, Losing Alaska presents a crisis mirrored in many Northern Indigenous communities. A history of haphazard planning by government has exacerbated housing issues and ongoing effects of colonization. Young people face the additional pressure of having to choose between leaving for better job and educational opportunities, or remaining to fight for the ways of life they hold dear. Despite the severity of their situation, the remoteness of such communities means resident’s voices are seldom heard, making Losing Alaska’s wake-up call all the more urgent.
LOS REYES | Ivan Osnovikoff, Bettina Perut | Chile | Spanish | 2018 | 77min An enchanting nonfiction portrait of canine companionship, Los Reyes will delight dog- and doc-lovers alike. The film’s title, which translates as “the kings,” comes from the Chilean skatepark that serves as its backdrop, and doubles as a fitting label for the loveable mutts that have made the park their sovereign domain. Known as Chola and Fútbol by the angsty teens who are the park’s other main occupants, this pair of strays are seldom far apart, but their personalities are charmingly distinct: Chola likes to chase cyclists and employ ramps as tennis ball chutes, while the older, more sedate Fútbol can turn just about anything into a chew toy. Delicately observed by veteran directors Bettina Perut and Ivan Osnovikoff, who exhibit a fine eye for comic detail, Los Reyes’ simplicity belies its efficacy as a poignant tribute to misfits of both the hound and human varieties.
MOSSVILLE | Alexander John Glustrom | United States | English | 2019 | 75min When the village of Mossville, Louisiana was founded by former slaves in 1790, it was one of the first settlements of its kind. Once a haven for black families in the South, much of the community has since been rendered a wasteland by the activities of the state’s petrochemical industry. A living embodiment of the effects of environmental racism, lifelong resident Stacey Ryan has watched his birthplace steadily transformed and his neighbours aggressively displaced. Now, his trailer and its plot are a solitary patch of green amid an industrial-scale construction zone. With an apartheid-era South African mining company determined to squeeze him out, Mossville documents his stirring last stand. A nightmarish landscape is the battleground for Stacey’s defiant spirit, as he’s forced to choose between a better life for his son and fighting to preserve his ancestors’ legacy.
MOTHERLOAD | Liz Canning | United States | English | 2019 | 86min In Motherload , a crowdsourced documentary about the cargo bike movement, director Liz Canning celebrates cycling’s myriad benefits, tracing its history as an early tool of feminist liberation and lauding its capacity to help us sustain—and reconnect with—the natural world. Canning reveals how cargo bikes allowed her and her children to lead a healthier, greener lifestyle, while fighting off the blues of an increasingly frantic digital consumer culture. Blending an examination of cycling’s roots within activism, interviews with bicycle innovators from around the globe, and empowering accounts from women who explain that cargo bikes have changed their lives, Motherload demonstrates that a seemingly mundane mode of travel can produce miraculous results.
SETTING THE BAR: A CRAFT CHOCOLATE ORIGIN STORY | Tim Shephard | Mexico | 2019 | 85min Join five of America’s finest purveyors of craft chocolate as they journey to the Peruvian jungle in Setting the Bar , a behind-the-scenes look at the lengths to which these exacting chocolatiers will go to source ingredients for their artisanal confections. Part Amazon adventure and part celebration of sustainability, the film depicts their efforts to seek new, fantastically flavourful varieties of cacao, and to develop equitable relationships with the agricultural communities that cultivate them. Filmmaker Tim Shephard captures the passion and intrepid spirit of the chocolate-makers, as well as the testimonies of Indigenous cacao farmers forced to contend with deforestation, large-scale agribusiness, and incursions from cartels. If you’ve ever wondered whether artisanal fair-trade products are worth the premium, this immersive and informative profile reveals the processes and people that fashion ethically sourced beans into high-end bars.
SHEEP HERO | Ton Van Zantvoort | Netherlands | Dutch | 2018 | 81min Except for when he’s shearing to the strains of Daft Punk, Stijn Hilgers is a staunch traditionalist. One of the last shepherds of his kind, he lives a pastoral existence in the Dutch countryside with his family and his flock, offering grazing services to landowners who wish to tend to their fields sustainably, without the aid of mechanized means. But his idealistic and easygoing disposition is put to the test as his pool of clients grows ever smaller; stiff competition from smart machinery and disappearing subsidies make his old-fashioned services a costly proposition. Stijn is willing to fight to preserve the cultural heritage of shepherding, but the odds are against him. As filmed by director Ton Van Zanvoort, Sheep Hero fashions Stijn’s struggle into compelling tragicomic cinema, with stakes worthy of a classic western and a charismatic star that lives up to his titular billing.
SOYALISM | Enrico Parenti, Stefano Liberti | Italy | 2018 | 65min As the Amazon burns and the US-China trade war continues to escalate, Soyalism is a sobering probe of a global industry with surprising links to both crises. Following each link in the worldwide chain of pork production, from the United States to Brazil, Mozambique, and, ultimately, China, this classic investigative documentary surveys the international consequences of Beijing’s growing demand: enormous soybean monocultures in the Brazilian rainforest; lagoons of hog waste threatening water supplies in North Carolina; Mozambican farmers coerced and displaced. A market once driven by local producers has been transformed by industrial conglomerates controlling feed production, livestock rearing, slaughterhouses, and distribution. Without a concerted effort to combat rapacious agribusiness and unsustainable consumer habits, Soyalism reveals that pork’s calamitous social and ecological by-products are only likely to escalate.
THE WHALE AND THE RAVEN | Mirjam Leuze | Germany | English | 2019 | 100min Though Mirjam Leuze’s captivating documentary takes its title from its two main characters, marine researchers Janie Wray and Hermann Meuter, The Whale and the Raven is, above all, about a community, and the precious rainforest ecosystem within which that community is situated. With the permission of their hosts from the Gitga’at First Nation, Wray and Meuter have established a base of operations in British Columbia’s Hartley Bay, where they have discovered a marine corridor of unique solitude, its natural silence perfectly suited to sonar-reliant humpbacks and orcas. Or so it seems, until the approval of a natural gas tanker route threatens to disrupt the waters and drive the whales away. At once intimate and majestic, The Whale and the Raven is a multifaceted look at yet another clash between economic and ecological considerations, and the potential ramifications for creatures of all kinds that have made this habitat their home.
WHEN TOMATOES MET WAGNER | Marianna Economou | Greece | 2019 | 72min In this charming tale of rural life in the time of European austerity, an aging Greek village stays connected to the rest of the world through the bounty of its fields. Following a cast of endearing characters, director Marianna Economou documents the efforts of an organic tomato farm in an economically depressed Greece. Cousins Aleco and Christo use unconventional methods to grow their tomatoes, including serenading their crops with classical compositions. Along with these musical ingredients, the crops thrive on the love of the village matriarchs who are the company’s heart and soul. The care and attention devoted to their crops and packaging contrasts sharply with the mass-produced products that provide stiff competition. And while their enterprise may not endure forever, for now, at least, it’s a pleasure to watch them work.
ZAGROS | Shahab Mihandoust, Ariane Lorrain | Canada | Persian | 2018 | 58min Amid the Zagros mountains of western Iran, the semi-nomadic Bakhtiari tribes have forged a reputation as some of the world’s foremost carpet makers, weaving naturally dyed yarns into vibrant, astoundingly intricate designs. But as with so many long-practiced handicrafts, modern forms of mass-production have dramatically diminished the market for rugs made via the Bakhtiari’s painstakingly traditional means. In an effort to memorialize these methods before they’re lost to history, Iranian-Canadian filmmakers Ariane Lorrain and Shahab Mihandoust travelled to the Zagros region to produce this eponymous documentary. Observing intently as their subjects fashion their dyes, colour their yarns, and, finally, weave the threads into breathtaking creations, their film is a lush, tactile, and poetic portrait of a hardy people and the artform that gives them purpose.
BAKED FISH – PEIX AL FORN | Guillem Miró | Spain | 2018 | 4min | Animation A playful stop-motion approach to the all-too-real issue of ocean pollution.
CONSTANT THOUGHT | Palmer Morse, Matt Mikkelsen | United States | English | 2019 | 14min An intimate portrayal of an Iraq War veteran and as he seeks to overcome PTSD via outdoor therapy, by walking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
DETROIT HIVES | Palmer Morse, Rachel Weinberg | United States | English | 2019 | 5min A couple from Detroit are working to create opportunities for youth in their community and by transforming vacant lots into buzzing urban apiaries.
FARMING FOR THE FUTURE | Kieran Moreira | United States | English | 2019 | 11min This short documentary visits the unexpected places where the farms of the future are emerging—a school in west Baltimore, a garage in St. Louis—and introduces the people who are helping this movement take shape.
THE FLAMING RAGE OF THE SEA | Rosanna Greaves | United Kingdom | English | 2018 | 20min The Flaming Rage Of The Sea explores the constructed and ever-changing landscape of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands, a region below sea level. It features choreographed stilt performers as apparitions of past farming practices done on stilts and was filmed at various locations in the Fens.
IT MATTERS WHAT | Francisca Duran | Canada | 2019 | 9min A poetic and arresting experimental animation, It Matters What calls into question human violence over animal species.
MEDIA RESISTANCE: LAND & WATER | Ashton Janvier | Canada | 2018 | 9min Media Resistance: Land & Water sheds light on the environmental injustices brought forth onto Dene land in Northern Saskatchewan by invasive uranium mining operations. Multigenerational voices reflect the crucial fight against environmental destruction.
A MEETING OF YOUNG MINDS | Jani Bellefleur-Kaltush | Canada | 2018 | 18min Seven young Inuus gather at an ecotourism site located on their ancestral lands to share their thoughts on the environment and sustainable development.
NOTHING TO SAY | Aubry Mintz | United States | English | 2019 | 10min This provocative animated allegory ponders the ethics of animal captivity.
PLANTAE | Guilherme Gehr | Brazil | Portuguese | 2017 | 10min Filmmaker Guilherme Gehr utilizes marvellous 2D animation to envision a poignant and fantastical call for rainforest protection.
RIVER OF THE KUKAMAS | Nika Belianina | Peru | Spanish | 2018 | 7min A tranquil filmic journey through Peru’s Amazon basin, a site with rich spiritual and ancestral connections for the Kukama people.
SCENES FROM A DRY CITY | Francois Verster, Simon Wood | South Africa, United States | 13min An impressionistic survey of Cape Town’s water crisis which has had drastically contrasting effects for the city’s rich and poor residents.
THE SHEPHERDESS | Katie Falkenberg | 6min Despite a fierce drought, a Navajo woman is determined to uphold her ancestors pastoral traditions by tending to her flock.
WELCOME TO GWICHYAA ZHEE | Greg Balkin, Len Necefer | United States | English | 2019 | 13min Having seen first hand the effects of oil and gas development in his native territory, a Navajo activist lends his support to the Gwich’in of Alaska as they fight to defend their home against similar despoliation.
A WORLD WITHOUT | Xin Liu | Canada | English | 2018 | 15min Observing an array of animals in their natural Albertan habitats, Toronto filmmaker Xin Liu’s meditative short ponders a world in which human influence is conspicuously absent.
The 20th Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival takes place October 15 to 20, 2019. For more information, click here.