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Vancouver Film Festival: Green Filmmakers See Red


By RA - Posted on 01 September 2009

The 16-day Vancouver International Film Festival gets underway on 1st October. If previous years are anything to go by, you can expect a programme bursting at the seams with world cinema, documentary, music and arthouse work from across the globe. In particular, with the Earth Summit in Copenhagen coming in December, expect festival artistic director Alan Franey to field a strand of hard-hitting environmental documentaries when the full VIFF programme goes live on 12th September.

Two such docs that reveal a swelling wave of righteous green anger are At The Edge of the World and H2Oil.

At the Edge of the World follows Captain Paul Watson, a buccaneering, white-bearded bear of a man, and crews of two of his ships as they set sail, on an annual mission to hunt down and stop Japanese whalers in the frozen South Seas.

Watson, a co-founder of Greenpeace, who quit to take a more proactive approach, is renowned for his aggressive, “interventionist” tactics when policing the oceans. He flies a Jolly Roger from his mast and famously carries a steel blade attached to the hull of his ship, the Farley Moat, to dispense with his enemy. On the side of his hull, the markings of sunk vessels indicate that Watson is not afraid to use his so co-called “can opener”.

The captain of the second ship, the Robert Hunter, is a Dutch man Alex Cornelissen, a combination of cool-head and fiery spirit. The two men make natural leading characters in what becomes a gripping seafaring drama involving cat and mouse chases through icey seas that are as treacherous as they are scenically spectacular.

At the Edge of the World is like a modern, eco version of a Hornblower adventure as it follows the motley crew of volunteers preparing and entering the freezing, conflict zone, except here the weapons of choice are Zodiac speed boats, stink bombs (to sabotage the whale meat processing boat), and frayed rope to foul a ship propellor. Director Dan Stone's fly-on-the-wall approach pays off. Making use of multiple cameras, including some great aerial shots taken from Sea Shepherd's helicopter, allows the filmmakers to knit together a compelling tale of green heroism.

H2Oil doesn't carry the same on-screen dramatics, but the subject-matter is quietly incendiary. The largely aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, a few clicks downstream from the tar sands at Fort McMurray, has become a cancer hotspot. Local wetlands and fresh water sources are drying up. Vast, oily tailings ponds, so big you can see them from space, now define the area. The Athabasca river is a toxic mess. But, as interviews in H2Oil reveal, addressing these problems is an exercise in frustration. Government leaders, seeing only dollar signs, slither away from responsiblity and sidle up with the oil barons.

Worse, when the local doctor shares his fears about tar sands pollution he is removed from his post by Health Canada for “alarming” his community. Left with no choice, we see the community go beyond national borders with their concerns and now “Fort Chip” is making international headlines. If you want to put faces behind some of those headlines H2Oil makes a good introduction.

Finally, the Museum of Vancouver's excellent Velo-City exhibition, looking at the historic role of the bicycle in Vancouver, ends this month with a double-bill movie screening of You Never Bike Alone and Portland documentary feature Veer at 1pm on Sunday 6 September. The films celebrate the vibrant urban sub-culture surrounding the ultimate green machine.