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Ecocinema presents information films on its last days

On its fourth and fifth day, Ecocinema International Environment Film Festival in Rhodes (Greece) focused on information films that try to raise our awareness on environmental matters. Here is the review of 3 of these documentaries that drew a special attention.

Battle’s poison cloud, by Cecile Trijssenaar from the UK (2003, 53 minutes)
The first image sets the tone of the documentary as the camera pans over shelves of jars containing monstrously malformed dead foetuses. The sequence graphically quantifies the horrors of Agent Orange, the chemical that was used by the US army in Vietnam to deforest the land and prepare for a ground invasion. The 67 million litres poured over the country during the war of 1956-1963 have durably poisoned the soil and now threaten to infiltrate the food chain. The consequences are widespread and monstrous malformations that seem to span over an undetermined number of generations. Although images are shockingly awful and explicit, the interviews are full of dignity. The reasons of the US strategy, the past, present and future consequences of this large-scale poisoning are clearly stated in the film. The fact that the unquestionable scientific link between Agent Orange and the malformations has not yet been proved is not obscured, neither that this evidence requires a costly testing ($1,000 per test) that the relevant parties don’t seem ready to bear (the US denies responsibility for the moment). The fact that an American Veteran shares this concern in the documentary helps us accept more easily the criticism. However, some shots somehow tend to dramatize the plight of these victims, especially when the camera tilts from the face of an apparently normal child down to his lower body until we discover he was born without legs and walks away on his hands. While the guilt inducing trick is quite understandable as it draws empathy to the innocent victim, it doesn’t diminish the obvious suffering of these doomed persons (empathy transforms monstrous creatures into blood-and-flesh persons).
At a time when America has staged a war in Iraq to look for yet undiscovered weapons of mass destruction and unilaterally decides what is right and what is wrong, this documentary helps us raise our awareness of how western moral can be based on very convenient double standards. It definitely deserves a widespread audience (for the moment, the film was only broadcast on Australian television).

The ghosts of Lamako, by Kenton Vaughan from Canada (2003, 63 minutes)
The documentary follows Belgian primatology expert Jef Dupain, conservation maverick Karl Ammann and Canadian bioethicist Kerry Bowman on their journey in the Lomako forets, one of the most remote parts of the Congo basin. They are in the search for bonobos, an endangered monkey species supposed to be the animal that looks the closest like the humans and that we can only find there. The film, which was shot in 2 weeks and was the result of about 100 hours of footage filmed on location, is a very interesting behind-the-scene look on how non-governmental organizations try to coordinate and somehow influence each other to reach their goal, whether it’s research, preservation or health. The analysis remains quite objective as it recognizes that the situation here is very complex. In fact, preservation may look like a luxury in a warring country where people moreover need to eat (although eating monkeys raises serious health concerns).

A last resort, by Hetty van Oordt from the Netherlands (2003, 40 minutes)
Where is the ideal balance between the commercial exploitation of a land as a resort and its necessary preservation against the consequences of mass tourism ? Hetty van Oordt explores the dilemma faced by the 4,000 inhabitants of the Dutch island of Terschellingen who at times welcome up to 40,000 tourists in their homeland. No unnecessary voice-over comments spoil the message and the opinions of the islanders and images are here to illustrate the point. For instance, when island dwellers complain about the noisy youth, we are showed how they behave at night in the street. However, she offers no clear cut solution since islanders obviously need the money. Opposing points of view are fairly exposed, even if a hotel developer representing the pro-tourists seems rather arrogant. Finally, her analysis is complete as she tackles the economic, social (the youth flees the island due to skyrocketing rents), organizational (the planning of festivals and the debates of the councils), and ecological aspects of the problem.

Olivier Delesse


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