Why Werner - PART 2

In celebration of Werner Herzog’s body of work exploring environmental themes, EFFA is screening the preeminent filmmaker’s 2007 Academy Award-nominated Encounters at the End of the World, followed by his new film, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin.

But why Werner?

Here we chat with RMIT’s Dr Tyson Wils, whose thesis was on depictions of the natural world in the films of Werner Herzog. Dr Wils is co-editor of the book Activist Film Festivals: Towards a Political Subject and has worked as a film programmer at the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival.

What makes Herzog an environmental thinker?

There are a number of ways this question can be answered.  

One way is to say that nature and the physical world have been central to Herzog's work since his first feature length film Signs of Life (1968). In the context of Herzog's cinema, nature not only pertains to the external, objective world, which includes both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial domains of physical existence (such as the world of space explored in The Wild Blue Yonder (2005)). Nature also relates to human experiences of the world, to what Herzog has described as 'inner landscapes' of the mind. It should also be said that Herzog does not represent nature in one particular way - his films tend to incorporate and blend various kinds of representation - and there can be tensions in the different ways he explores the natural world on-screen. 

There are at least three themes related to the environment that Herzog has explored throughout his career.  

The first one is that there are boundaries between humans and the natural world and nature is, ultimately, indifferent to human affairs i.e. it is not possible for humans to truly bond with animals (see Grizzly Man (2005), for instance) and there are limits to what humans can do in the external world (humans are bound by mental and physical constraints) - in The Wild Blue Yonder, for example, Herzog presents the universe as too vast a place for us to colonise; in other words, Herzog does not believe we ever going to find another planet to inhabit. 

Second, and in some ways potentially contradictory to the first theme, nature can function as a metaphor for human experience. It can give expression to the individual soul of characters on screen (fictional or non-fictional, Herzog does not necessarily discriminate) or to the collective dreams of the human species; throughout his career - in his films as well as in his writings and in interviews - Herzog has consistently expressed the belief that nature can reveal the inner world of characters  and members of the audience (and Herzog has for decades relentlessly tried to break down the wall between  the diegetic and extra-diegetic (in other words, between what occurs within and outside the screen).  

The third theme is that the cosmos is characterised by absurdity and circularity (Dracula's rumination on time in Herzog's version of Nosferatu the Vamprye (1979) offers a succinct statement on this state of endless repetition and futility). Within this universal framework Herzog speculates that the human species is, probably, destined to die out (endlessly repeat its failings, for example), and this is often expressed through imaginative, apocalyptic imagery and language  (perhaps best captured by his film on the burning oil fields in Kuwait - Lessons of Darkness (1992)). At the same time, the filmmaker is open to the possibility that cinema and other forms of culture (particularly forms of culture that Herzog believes are 'authentic', which includes non-Western forms of indigenous culture) can help humans reimagine the world they live in and offer opportunities for them to affirm existence despite the absurd state of affairs. 

It should also be mentioned that the physical world is, for Herzog, not only a place of nature, but also a place humans inhabit and physically exist in. As such, his cinema has placed emphasis on human action and gesture (Klaus Kinski, for instance, exemplified the importance of physical movement to characterisation in the respective films he worked on with Herzog - Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) illustrates this well). Herzog cinema is also a cinema of athleticism and feats of physical endurance (see the ski-jumping film The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974) and the mountain films The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985) and Scream of Stone (1991), for example). Finally, Herzog aims to represent what can be described as the actuality of filmic production as events are recorded by the camera; the world as it unfolds on a film set or location, including moments of non- or under-rehearsed performance, is something Herzog has often tried to capture and incorporate into the story world of his films. 

At least some aspects of the physical and actual as they appear in Herzog's films have, arguably, important implications for the concept of environmentalism. This is because they can remind spectators of the reality of embodied experience i.e. that humans exist as beings with bodies in the physical world. Although, it should be remembered that Herzog's films also often point towards a sublime experience of transcendence that moves beyond embodied experience to emphasise higher order concepts of human life. It is these sorts of tensions that make Herzog an interesting and enduring figure of European and American cinema as well as a complex representative of environmental thinking. 

Hear more from Dr Wils, and see Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin at Cinema Nova at 2.15pm, Sunday 27 October. 

This film will be preceded by Herzog’s new film, Encounters at the End of the World at Cinema Nova, at 12pm.

These sessions are $15 each plus booking fee.

Why Werner - PART 1

In celebration of Werner Herzog’s body of work exploring environmental themes, EFFA is screening the preeminent filmmaker’s 2007 Academy Award-nominated Encounters at the End of the World, followed by his new film, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin.

But what’s so special about Werner?

Here we chat with filmmaker and lecturer, James Thompson, who is currently completing a practice led PhD at MADA (fine arts) Monash University, and is a long-term regular fixture of the RMIT University cinema studies program, to find out!

For those who don’t know him, can you give some context to Herzog as a director and cultural figure, and why he might be deserving of a showcase at an Environmental Film Festival?

Herzog is a German director quite often associated with the German New Wave; a movement and grouping of filmmakers in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Germany who sought out new modes of expression and filmmaking aesthetics in parallel with the counter-cultural movements taking place world over at that time.

Herzog never anchored himself in Germany. He has always been an explorer who took his filmmaking out into the world. He is prolific and has shot documentary and fiction films on every continent and sought out the strange and unfamiliar corners of human civilisation as well as the vast wilderness and deepest recesses. He is one of the most famous and well-regarded filmmakers and artists in cinema history and has always been available to talk, discuss and educate in regard to his craft. He has always narrated his documentary work and thereby has always had a deep and personal connection with the subject matter and the audience to which he speaks.

Once one becomes a fan of Herzog, it is not hard to discuss at length his cinematic project as it is if one knows him personally. He is of special significance to the Environmental Film Festival simply for the fact that throughout his career he has explored and documented the planet to a far greater extent than any other filmmaker.

He inspires an individualistic motivation to go out and see nature and to take responsibility for human impact. Herzog’s message is one of personal connection; be it the Amazon, the Sahara, the jungles of Vietnam, or Antarctica.  

In several of Herzog’s films (Fata MorganaLessons of DarknessSalt and Fire to name a few), he presents a kind of alien perspective of our planet and in interviews has referred to Earth as ‘no longer our own’. What do you think he means by this, and what can his depiction of an alien perspective tell us about our lived environments?

First and foremost, Herzog has always been interested the human being and the experience of ‘Being’ itself. He is interested in ways of seeing and the way in which we apprehend the world via consciousness.

When he approaches the environment as a subject, he is seeking to articulate the landscape and the phenomena of nature with the understanding that he does so through the lens of human interest, perception, and representation. Our way of seeing, our linguistic sensibilities, habits and agendas are built into our relationship with the environment. It is because of this powerful aesthetic vision that Herzog denies environmentalism as a personal thematic concern. In this way, he seeks to witness nature first, and any environmental concerns thereby follow secondarily. I would guess that he avoids the moniker of ‘environmentalist’ so as to not confuse what his project actually is; that is, to simply be alive, and to see. 

Herzog explicitly stylises landscape. For him photography and documentary film is not, and never can be, objective. It is transformative. It evidences the subjective, interior feelings, emotions, passions and motivations of the human being. This stylisation of nature and landscape is a provocation. It asks us to look at ourselves: brut, cold and objectively. Landscape is a reflection of the human interior. Although we around it all the time, we do not always see it, just as although we may be human all the time, we may not always be alert to the fact of our Being. Landscape and the human interior for Herzog are simultaneously universal, and universally unseen; always alien and unforgiving. 

Herzog has clearly stated many times his cosmic philosophy. That is, that the universe is cold and murderous; brut and unforgiving. We are insignificant to it. Whether it be when he observes the cold, hungry eyes of a bear in the film Grizzly Man (2005), or when he explores the devastation in the aftermath of the first Iraq war in Lessons in Darkness (1992) his penchant is to acknowledge the devastation and the unlikely survival of the human experience. This is called world-over the human condition. Taking an alien perspective, I would argue is Herzog’s way of practising a kind of empiricism. He wants to know what we are, and to do so he needs to step outside of his own subjectivity. 

More recently, in films like Wild Blue YonderInto the Inferno and Encounters, Herzog seems interested in scientists (in the same way he used to be interested in adventurers, madmen and explorers). Are these archetypes connected and how do you think Herzog’s personal relationship to science informs his view of environmentalism?

His relationship to scientists seems to me to be one of practicality and pragmatism. He needs them to fully understand what it is he seeking out – the complexities of nature. Also, I’m sure he builds genuine relationships with people as he develops his stories and perspectives. But as far as archetypes go, I feel that there is a difference between how he has treated adventurers, and how he relates to scientists. I feel that Herzog identifies as an adventurer, madman, explorer, who finds his equal counterpart in the ‘archetype’ scientist. 

Generally speaking, do you think Herzog’s view of the environment, nature and environmentalism has changed over his career? If so, how? Would you say there has been a shift from interrogating the folly of colonial conquest of environments to celebrating the scientific exploration of them?

Herzog presents an acute awareness of our personal relationship with the world in which we live. Not from an ideological perspective, but from one of awe, wonder, fear and reverence. Herzog transcends the ordinary boundaries of politics, discourse and journalism. Herzog maintains a wide view. He observes the environmentalists as much as the industrialists to whom they are binary. This is reflective of this alien point of view. This is also what makes him a preeminent documentarian. He knows that he doesn’t know. He seeks out that which is foreign, that which is outside of the acknowledged civilised discourse. His films are always a quest to discover what it means to ‘Be’. That is, what it means to be in the world, in the environment, in nature, and of nature.

His first films reflect this drive and ambition just as his recent documentaries. Aguirre; The Wrath of God (1972) for instance, is as much a study and document of the Amazon, as it is a study of the charisma of Klaus Kinsky, as it is equal parts Heart of Darkness and recreation of colonial traumatisation. I don’t think his view of the environment has changed. I would say that his filmmaking and aesthetic sensibilities have changed with the central focus always on landscape and the isolated human being within. 

Why is Encounters at the End of the World an important ‘environmental film’ and why would you urge our audience members to go and see it at the festival?

I would urge people to come and see this film as rather than supporting a cause per se, or investigating a topic, this type of filmmaking is an opportunity to enjoy and bask in the opening up of one’s mind to the possibilities of the human experience in nature. For all of the analysis, the complexity and the confrontation that comes with a filmmaker like Herzog, the final say is one of celebration of simply being there to witness the majesty of the planet earth. 

Hear more from James Thompson, and see Encounters at the End of the World at Cinema Nova, 12pm Sunday 27 October.

This film will be followed by Herzog’s new film, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin at Cinema Nova at 2.15pm.

These sessions are $15 each plus booking fee.

Top 10 Movie Moments at EFFA 2019

Herzog’s Deranged Penguin

1.    In our special retrospective screening of Encounters at the End of the World, acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog travels to McMurdo Station in Antarctica to survey the pioneering scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying the environment. While here, Herzog encounters a solitary penguin, who refusing to return to its colony or head towards its breeding grounds, charges headfirst into the glacial abyss and certain death. A beguiling and unique metaphor, no single image at EFFA will make you question the absurdity of existence quite like Herzog’s deranged penguin. 

This Mountain Life’s Skiing Nun

2.    This Mountain Life takes you deep into the mountainous wilderness of British Columbia and the inhabitants you'll find there. From a mother-daughter duo undertaking the 2,300km trek to Alaska and a skier caught in an avalanche, to a uniquely talented snow artist and a couple who have been living there off-grid for half a century, the film offers a riveting insight into the people whose lives truly revolve around the mountains. This is such a strikingly breathtaking film, which deeply immerses you in its environment. While it doesn't shy away from the real dangers of the terrain, it allows you to experience the majesty of an area barely touched by humans. It's also likely to be the only film where you'll get to see a nun extolling her connection to nature while cheerfully cross-country skiing across the screen.

The Hottest August’s New York Oddities

3.    The Hottest August shows humanity from a hauntingly eerie perspective, with footage of contemporary society appearing as if it were a relic from another time. Throughout the film, a lone astronaut floats through the streets of New York, both at home and an alien to this world, observing a world on the brink of ecological disaster. However, it’s the final scene that gave me shivers; a mass dance class, moving in the final twilight of the hottest summer. 

Mossville’s Revealed Landscapes

4.    Mossville is a real-life horror film, that had me yelling ‘get out of there’ over and over again. Watching the drone shots reveal a town increasingly reduced to toxic wasteland is an apocalyptic vision of America. 

Trees Down Here’s Architectural Elegance (Experimental Short)

 5.    In Ben Rivers' Trees Down Here there are architectural plans, an owl, a snake, buildings and trees all elegantly placed together in a short film in a set space. The colours and grain of the 16 mm film work with the ambient sounds and voices to create a pleasant environment where the happy coexistence of people and the rest of nature seems both possible and peacefully easy. I've watched this over and over.

Grit’s Striking Sculptures

 6.    In Grit, a mud flow that buried 16 villages in East Java and displaced tens of thousands has created a dystopian desert-like environment where Dian and her family once lived. The dry cracked mud stagnated by human mud sculptures, now a tourist attraction that provides income for families left homeless, echoes the pain and loss for the people who once lived and work there and are left fighting for justice as the mud continues to flow. 

Titixe’s Impressionistic Nature

7.    Farming practices once dictated by the formations of clouds in the skies by ancestors is being lost with the changing climate and unreliable weather patterns. Titixe draws you into the eyes and mind of the narrator as she explores and works the land in honour of her late grandfather. As a viewer, watching the clouds and trees in Titixe was a reminder to take a moment to pause and reflect in the environment.

Backyard Wilderness’ Critters at your Doorstep

 8.    A rare environmental film that is aimed at kids but contains footage sure to mesmerise adults alike. Backyard Wilderness follows Kate and her family as she learns to log off her computer, put away her phone and engage with the amazing ecosystem that’s thriving right in her backyard. Shot mostly from the perspective of the local wildlife as they traverse the four seasons, one of the film’s many highlights is watching chicklets jumping from their nest in a first attempt to fly (set cheekily to Tom Petty’s classic Free Fallin’). Screening at IMAX in spectacular 3D, this is wildlife photography of the highest order, for the whole family to enjoy.

Youth Unstoppable’s Future Leaders

9.    In light of the record-breaking protests that have taken place in the last month, Youth Unstoppable presents a timely look at the history of the global youth climate movement, as told by those on the very front lines. Shot over nine-years by teen filmmaker Slater Jewell-Kempker, the film’s intimate profiles of future leaders and images of impassioned collective demonstration are sure to inspire and provide hope for the future of our planet. A powerful historical document, this is a film that allows us to look back, to see how we might bring about the change required to move forward.

Into the Jungle’s ‘Homecoming’ with Baby Tadji

10.   Finding out you’re having a baby right in the thick of a complicated and highly ambitious conservation project to save a tree kangaroo from extinction is a big deal. Then defying the doctor’s advice to raise a baby in the remote jungle of PNG to continue the project is an even bigger deal. But it’s this commitment that makes the film - and the project - so moving and inspiring. Watching the local community embrace baby Tadji as their own brings home the impact of the ex-Melbourne conservation couple behind the project - Jim and Jean Thomas - and the respect they had garnered. A reminder of the sacrifices they had made, but also of why they had made them. A very moving moment - one of many - in Into the Jungle.

'As filmmakers it is our duty to tell the truth, not to create a fairytale that says everything is alright' - interview with Sally Ingleton

In the lead up to her panelist position at our Women With Impact Industry Insider session we chat with Director/Writer/Producer Sally Ingleton (Penguin Island; Muddy Waters; Life and Death on the Great Barrier Reef) - a pioneer of environmental documentary making with 30 years experience creating award-winning films. Sally spoke us about her new film Wild Things, and being motivated by the power of film to inspire people that change is possible.

You have been creating environmental and natural history documentaries for more than 30 years, and during that time there has been a shift from filming the beauty of the natural world, to a focus on the changes and destruction taking place around us. Has this shift discouraged or motivated you as a filmmaker?

 In the world of natural history filmmaking there is still a strong tendency for audiences to want stories that depict the beauty and majesty of the natural world. Over the past decade filmmakers have witnessed plastic pollution in the ocean and the disappearance of many iconic species – particularly lions, rhinos and elephants due to the ivory trade and loss of habitat there has been a move to tell more honest stories about what is really happening to our world.

As filmmakers it is our duty to tell the truth, not to create a fairytale that says everything is alright. The challenge is telling this story in a way that is engaging and offer solutions. What motivates me is to inspire people that change is possible and if we stop arguing about it and just get on with adopting the policies that we know will work then change will happen.

Which has been your favourite environmental or natural history film to make, and what impact was generated by that film?

In 2006 I heard an amazing Australian scientist (Dr Ken Street) on the radio talking about his work which involved collecting ancient crop seeds from remote corners of the planet. I was hooked as the story seemed to wrap up so many themes that I was interested in. I tracked him down and soon began making SEED HUNTER. We filmed Ken on a seed collecting mission through the wilds of Central Asia. Over a few weeks we followed him and a group of scientists in run down Russian vans as they travelled through tiny farming villages in the mountains and valleys of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan collecting ancient wheat, barley and chick pea seeds. These were seeds that had been proven over time to produce a good crop before modern seeds had been introduced. The story was a great way to talk about how our future food will be impacted by climate change and the need to breed up more resilient varieties if we are to feed the world.

The film was sold to TV stations all over the world and won lots of awards. It also became a favourite at many environment film festivals and Ken became known as “the Seed Hunter”. It generated a lot of conversation around the importance of ancient seeds and was really one of the first films to look at this issue as well as the impact of climate change on farming and food production. 

In 2013-14 I made another science nature documentary about ocean acidification. At the time not many people had heard about it and my way into this complex story was through the work of a marine science team who had found a study site in Papua New Guinea where a pristine coral reef had been bathed in natural CO2 for decades. The coral had dramatically changed and it was a great place to see what will happen to reef communities if carbon emissions continue to rise. The film had a terrific impact as it highlighted the plight of coral reefs and also showed how oceans are absorbing high levels of CO2 which is reducing biodiversity and endangering any marine animal with a skeleton. The film sold all over the world including to the PBS NOVA, ZDF, Arte France and many more.

You are currently producing and directing your first feature documentary about environmental activism in a time of crisis, called Wild Things. Can you tell us a bit about the film? Why did you decide to make this documentary, and how you choose your interviewees?

WILD THINGS is a film I have wanted to make for many years. I have always been fascinated by history and what we can learn from the past. But history is not that popular at the moment on TV unless it’s about war. Financing the film has been quite a journey and the story has changed somewhat as the climate emergency has gathered momentum. The film is now very much about the importance of environmental activism at a time of crisis. I have been filming some wonderful activists – many of them women who are the forefront of the school strike movement, the Stop Adani Coal Mine, Save the Tarkine Rainforest and more. It’s been quite a beast to wrangle as so much is going on and things are moving very fast. The film is not just set in the present but also reflects on past campaigns and what we can learn from them and how things are being done differently now – or not.

It’s due to be completed mid 2020. Hopefully I’ll be able to show it at next year’s Environment Film Festival.

 What's your top tip for anyone thinking of making an environmental documentary?

Making films is hard. Raising finance is enough harder and so you just have to really care about the film and its content as that is what will keep you going.

Hear from Sally at EFFA’s Women With Impact Industry Insider session, 4pm Sunday October 27 at State Library of Victoria Village Roadshow Theatrette.

This session was made possible with the support of the Environment and Media Research Program, Monash University School of Media, Film and Journalism.

'We come together, we organize together, or we perish' - in conversation with Brett Story

Ahead of the screening of her documentary The Hottest August, we spoke with geographer and filmmaker Brett Story about collective power, the influence of space, and how introspection can save the planet.

What was your inspiration for making The Hottest August?

I was interested in what feels ineffective, at least for me, of so many “climate change” films. And the key frustration is that they tend to hinge on the assumption that we don’t know how bad things are. I think differently – I think we do know how bad things are. So the question needs to be reframed. How come we can’t seem to do anything about it? How can we knowingly preside over a collapsing planet – oversee, even, our own imminent extinction? So the film re-casts its gaze; it asks us to look at ourselves, in all our complexity, absurdity, contradiction, and desire to thrive and survive, and make some of the links between what we are doing to the planet and how we are treating each other.

Why was New York City chosen as the setting to show a range of climate change perceptions?

New York happened to be where I was living when I made the film. But also New York is one the epicentres of global power; a place of huge wealth inequality and contradiction, and a city surrounded by water. It seemed an apt place to locate an investigation into the intersection of a lot of the crises we are facing down right now.

The Hottest August shows the perspective of the climate deniers, optimists and futurists. What did you take away as being the most significant reason for denial?

I think people will tell themselves a lot of things when they feel like they don’t have any power over their circumstances. Denial is complicated - it doesn’t always take the form of direct denial, but also can be disguised in techno-optimism, or other ways of fixating on particular and easy to manage solutions even when it’s clear that those solutions are limited. What I think is needed is a greater sense of our collective power to actually make changes in the world. Without that, then sheer terror will take over and we’ll tell ourselves all sorts of stories to keep that terror at bay.

What did the filming of The Hottest August teach you about our future?

It taught me that there’s no future in aloneness. We come together, we organize together, or we perish.

What do you hope people take away from this film?

I’d like people to consider the question of what kind of society makes the destruction of the planet possible, and how we might collectively re-think the ways in our current economic and political systems are currently organized. I realize this is a tall order! But the point, for me, of making this film, is to invite a kind of reckoning; not just to feel bad or hopeless, but rather to see issues of the environment as fundamentally social in their causes and consequences. For me, the biggest insight I took away from a month of shooting was that people feel paralyzed in the face of climate change because they feel alone. We feel isolated. We think and feel as individuals, and thus our power feels very small. There is no future in this aloneness. We have to think of ourselves as a society, and take some collective power back if we’re going to re-imagine the future as something that has possibility.

You have a PhD in geography. Why did you move into filmmaking, and how does your geography background influence your filmmaking practice?

In all of my work, I’m interested in questions of space. How people make space, and how spaces and environments in turn make us as people and as communities. I think its impossible to understand people outside of the lived contexts of our lives. Geography as a discipline offers a critical roadmap for understanding the organization of power through the spaces we inhabit. I think cinema works differently, of course, but is also for me a means of asking questions about the world as it appears to us.

What’s your next project?

I’ve got two that I’m working on right now: An archival study of the art critic John Berger and the landscape of radical public intellectualism, and a documentary about masculinity and its discontents.

Watch The Hottest August, followed by a panel discussion with experts and authors researching how culture impacts our response to environmental change, 8.30pm Saturday 26 October at Cinema Nova.

Community Storytelling Project Screenings

Every year, grassroots groups create their own short films through EFFA’s Community Storytelling Project, thanks to professional training by Digital Storytellers.

Six local environmental groups committed to creating a sustainable future were chosen to be part of this year's project and their shorts will screen at EFFA alongside other films.

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3000 ACRES

3000acres is a Melbourne-based not-for-profit on a mission to help more people grow more food in more places. 3000acres works with councils, statutory bodies and communities to expand urban agriculture and build healthier, more resilient communities through food. Want to learn more about how you can grow your own food in your neighbourhood? See 3000acres' short film screening with:

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AUSTRALIAN PARENTS FOR CLIMATE ACTION

Australian Parents for Climate Action (or AP4CA) is the voice for all parents, grandparents and carers of children in the climate emergency. Together, they are advocating for emergency-scale action from all levels of government and business to safeguard our kids’ futures. Find out how you can help fight for the future, see AP4CA’s short film screening with:

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AUSTRALIAN POLLINATOR ALLIANCE

The Australian Pollinator Alliance promotes the health of bees and all pollinators by delivering honeybee education for children and adults. By supporting backyard beekeepers, the Pollinator Alliance raises awareness about how bees are under threat and how important bees are in our food supply. Learn about the value of bees by seeing the Australian Pollinator’s Alliance short film, screening with:

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THE COMMUNITY GROCER

With a vision of a just food system that ensures fruit and vegetables are socially and economically accessible to everyone, The Community Grocer provides weekly affordable fresh food markets to support healthy connected communities. Get involved with The Community Grocer by watching their short, screening alongside:

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THE COMPOST DEPOT

The Compost Depot aims to reduce the amount of food waste going to landfill by diverting it to compost. The organisation is currently expanding and trialling different methods of composting, and runs workshops to educate the community about different food waste options. What to learn about what to do with your food waste? Watch The Compost Depot’s film screening alongside:

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ROVING REFILLS

Roving Refills provides mobile detergents – just BYO bottle! Roving Refills is run by two sisters with one truck – helping reduce waste by refilling containers with detergents, cleaning agents, shampoo and more. If you’re ready to ditch the single use bottles then see Roving Refills’ short screening with:

The Community Storytelling Project is made possible with the generous support of EFFA’s major partner Bank Australia.

HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT - IN CONVERSATION WITH CERES EDUCATION’S TOM KELLY

How do you help children make sense of the environmental changes take place around them? 

To help, we asked CERES Student Environmental Leadership Coordinator, Tom Kelly. 

Tom will introduce our Kids’ Short Films + Seed Planting session, sensitively exploring issues such as pollution and waste, and will also lead our seed planting workshop for kids in the cinema courtyard!

Join us for this fun and education session at Palace Westgarth, 10.30am – 12pm Sunday 27 October, and our interview with Tom below for tips on how to involve kids the environmental conversation! 

Tom Kelly, Student Environmental Leadership Coordinator at CERES

What motivated you to take up an education role with CERES?

When I was at University studying Outdoor Education I did what CERES aims to support others to do, ‘fall in love with the Earth’. As a young person from Bendigo and studying in Ballarat I did not make contact with CERES until I made the big move to Melbourne, from there it was love at first sight. Now, by working in the education team at CERES I continue to facilitate that love through fun, exploration and getting a little bit dirty.

What can children expect to learn about the environment during their seed planting workshop with EFFA? 

Hopefully a young person, in planting a seed, will learn about the interconnectivity of all things, living and non-living, that we find on our amazing planet. They will explore what it is like to be a seed through a ‘yoga’ exercise, where we will discover through movement what it feels like to ‘grow as a plant’, and what is required to support growth. And like with all things fun and exploratory, they will probably get a bit wet and a bit dirty!

Are you surprised by children’s 'environmental literacy', and how do you avoid overloading or overwhelming them when teaching environmental sessions?

Young people surprise me every day. By giving them the opportunity to express themselves in a range of different ways they can share the amazing insights into everything going on around them. They have the most amazing lens of viewing the world and it makes everything so much more fun and exciting. 

That being said, sometimes the human induced threats we have created for our planet can be overwhelming. But it is through ensuring young people that while they may have to share the responsibility in making change, it is not something they should ever feel responsibility for creating. 

What are some typical questions or concerns children have when learning about the environment, and how do you normally address these?

The climate emergency is of biggest concern to young people, from kindergarten to tertiary education and beyond. People constantly question and fear inaction. Young people have every right to feel these emotions and it is through allowing a conversation, providing answers where possible and creating a sense of hope and empowerment that I attempt to address these concerns.

What are your top tips for parents when discussing the environment with primary school aged children?

Be open to having a conversation. Help facilitate finding the answer to their questions. Involve them in whatever you hope will help create change. Be a role model. Speak highly of the people who are doing great things. Make it fun! 

Apart from addressing environmental challenges, connecting children with the environment and nature around them is a positive part of their development. How does connecting with nature impact children's physical and emotional health?

Connecting with nature is an enate desire for any human. Not so long ago we had a much stronger affinity with our surrounds and we still yearn to be outside, to explore to have fun. Seeing trees makes us feel happy, hiking amongst giant gums more so. The physical and emotional benefits to health are endless and the opportunity to do this as a family and not only connect with nature but each other in nature couldn’t be better.

effa films by theme

With environmental issues now entering the public consciousness more than ever before, EFFA is proud to present its biggest and most diverse line-up of films to date.

From celebrating the wonder of the natural world, to championing those fighting against climate change, de-forestation and waste, take a look at our films by theme to help choose from the 44 films on offer at EFFA 2019!

If you want to be inspired by environmental heroes, see Maxima, Mossville and Into the Jungle. 

If you want to revel in the world’s natural beauty, see Queen Without Land and This Mountain Life. 

If you’re interested in women leaders, see City DreamersGrit and attend our Women with Impact panel.

If you’re interested in Indigenous perspectives, see Ma’ohi NuiTitixe and Nomad, or catch our Australasian Shorts.

If you want to witness environmental change-makers hard at work, see Time of the ForestsEncounters at the End of the World.

If you’re interested in filmmakers’ insider perspectives, catch our Industry Insider sessions - open to all!

If you’re after kids films about the environment, take them to Backyard Wilderness 3D, Kids’ Shorts and Youth Unstoppable.

If you like your films a little left of centre, see Swarm SeasonThe Hottest August, Extra-Terrestrial Ecologies and our Experimental Shorts.

If you want your environmental stories in bite-sized pieces, see our International Shorts, Australasian Shorts.

Programmer’s Picks

This year EFF'A’s programming team watched more than 2,500 hours of film content to bring you the very best environmental films from around the world!

We asked our Program Manager, Nathan Senn, for his top three picks.

They are Swarm Season, The Time of Forests and Titixe.

Despite their diversity, these thought-provoking films each highlight the connections of people to place, and their commitment to tackling the changes taking place around them.

Swarm Season

Far from your traditional environmental-activism documentary, Swarm Season gently unfurls its tri-part narrative structure to examine our natural world in both micro and macrocosm. Putting side-by-side the telluric and the cosmic, spiritual and scientific, and the individual and universal, the film artfully guides us to consider the very future of human existence on Earth. 

Set on mainland Hawaii, Swarm Season is anchored by 10-year-old Manu and her mother, who collect wild, endangered bees in the hope of breeding disease-resistant colonies. Meanwhile, her father is part of a group of Indigenous activists who are protesting against the construction of a giant telescope on Mauna Kea - a site that that is deemed of sacred origin.On a neighbouring mountain, we also follow six NASA scientists training for the possibility of long-time space survival in conditions reflecting those on Mars.

A highly impressionistic and sensory experience, the film recalls the work of Terrence Mallick in both its scope and visual splendour. Ambitious, expansive and thought-provoking, Swarm Season will beguile lovers of cinema and offer the more environmentally-minded a highly unique perspective on some of the most pressing ecological concerns of our time. 

Time of the Forests

Immaculately lensed and a beautiful example of the power of slow-cinema, Time of the Forests is the rare kind of film that doubles as both a great work of art and an eye-opening environmental asseveration. 

With both great heart and intellect, the film considers how a confluence of late capitalist thought and modern technological advancements has brought about a kind of hyper-industrialisation that is rapidly changing the face of contemporary forestry. Far from the lush, verdant and expansive forests of our imaginations, the film situates us amongst the forests of France’s globalised economy: denuded monocultures, chemically fertilised, sprayed with pesticides, and grown purely to be clear-cut. However, there is hope to be found amongst this destruction, with activists who are championing traditional and sustainable forestry management techniques providing stirring resistance. 

As harvesting machines perform a hypnotic ballet and workers grapple with their own impending obsolescence, the film also delves into the social and human costs of a system that places profit above its people. Time of the Forests presents a visually mesmerising and emotionally rousing insight into one of the world’s most significant industrial threats to our environment, while maintaining a sense of optimism and solution-based thinking along the way.

Titixe 

Perhaps the most lyrical and profound film in this year’s line-up, Titixe certainly had the largest emotional impact on members of the Programming Team. The film follows director Tania Hernández Velasco as she turns her camera inwards to investigate the importance of tradition, inheritance and preserving cultural practice in ongoing environmental stewardship. 

An at times sublime, cinematic tone-poem, Velasco’s film takes place shortly after the death of her grandfather, the last in a long line of peasant farmers, whose intimate knowledge of the land has sadly disappeared with him. Without any practical experience, Velasco, her Mother and Uncle undertake one last traditional harvest in an attempt to honour her Grandfather’s legacy and to try and sustain the vestiges of traditional farming practice that were once so vital to her ancestors way of life.

Embodying a deeply diaristic and personal form of filmmaking that masterfully utilises rhythmic montage and evocative closeups to tell its story,Titixe also serves as a heartfelt rumination on the way in which global paradigms of progress can often lead to the loss of traditional forms of knowledge and ways of seeing the world. At its heart, Titixe is a cautionary tale about the disavowal of inter-generational wisdoms, the fragility of the family tree, and the importance of maintaining one’s cultural identity in the face of great societal change.

‘THE AUDIENCE IS AHEAD OF BROADCASTERS. THEY'RE DEMANDING FACTS RATHER THAN FANTASY’ - INTERVIEW WITH TOSCA LOOBY

Ahead of her attendance at EFFA 2019 for our Women With Impact Industry Insider session, we chat with Director/Writer/Producer Tosca Looby (Magical Land of Oz) about the responsibilities of making natural history documentaries in the age of the climate crisis, resisting 'white-washing' the hard-hitting issues, and the lessons learnt from making international co-productions!

In the face of climate change, what role do you think environmental and natural history filmmaking plays in impacting the public's perceptions and attitudes towards the environment?

I am sorry that in so many ways the world of natural history film making has only recently realised its responsibility in revealing what the natural world really looks like… not what the audience is purportedly imagining it looks like. We have a lot of catch up and unfortunately the audience has run ahead of broadcasters - demanding the facts rather than the fantasy. 

What's a recent example of a documentary film or television production which you think had a strong impact?

A film I saw recently, and consider important, is Sea Of Shadows, about the work of undercover agents (and Mexican navy) attempting to save the last remaining vaquitas - a tiny, beautiful whale - which has been decimated as by catch in the illegal fishing syndicates working through the Sea of Cortez.

It was about a last-ditch attempt to save a species, but which has come too late and is not enough to deliver this species from extinction in the face of economic powers. For me, the vaquita could be so many species and the film is a lesson in why we can’t wait until it’s a minute to midnight before we put a rescue plan into action.

There are many species across Australia who are on the same trajectory as the Vaquita - including iconic species like the koala. It’s amazing and devastating to me that we can’t learn from the lessons of species lost. 

Equally, I think 2040 is such an important film because it speaks very broadly and offers agency via tangible solutions. It appeals to the truth that we all need to jump on this train if we’re to reach a desirable destination in the future. It should be compulsory viewing.  

You have witnessed a change towards capturing the damage taking place in the world around us, as opposed to capturing the beauty of the natural world. Can the two go together, and does this approach help audiences engage with the subject matter?

I recently saw the Antarctic episode of the new Seven Continents series by BBC NHU. I resist pointing to these films as the pinnacle of what we’re all trying to achieve because they, most particularly, have taken so long to capture the damage of our world as well as the beauty. But finally, they seem to have found a way to walk this heady path.

Their recent Antarctic film is extraordinarily beautiful of course - it captures animals with the intimacy and ‘I felt like I was there’ power that the BBC NHU is famous for.

But from the very start, it also talks about the fragility of this environment and how it is changing too rapidly for the species who have survived there for eons. Their work is indicative of the fact that this now the only choice for us as film makers.

Audiences don’t want to be duped or lulled into a false sense of reality. They already know so much, and a film that only records beauty feels like a whitewash.

So we need to get better and better at saying ‘look at how extraordinary this is - and what is at stake’. We also need to offer up solutions and not be afraid to call out the big polluters, the economic interests and the politicking which will not budge to halt this climate crisis. It doesn’t just mean activist films, it means being clever and funny and beguiling. 

You recently made Magical Land of Oz - the first blue chip natural history series to be commissioned by the ABC in two decades. How and why did this come about, and how did you go about planning a shoot of such a huge geographical scale?

It took two years to get the deal completed for Magical Land of Oz. So it took as long to make the film as it did to make the deal!

It’s so hard to get a budget like that in Australia but we had a working relationship with PBS (US public broadcaster) having made several successful series for them. Their interest triggered the BBC and then the ABC with Screen Australia critically backing us from the beginning. We made the series as a co-production with Oxford Scientific Films in London. 

We spent months in pre-production to work out the stories we wanted to tell, then had to compromise on the basis of cost and the seasons within which we could film. Each story had a very limited number of filming days (compared to a BBC Natural History Unit production - which has four times the budget and filming days), so the most vital thing was creating strong relationships with people on the ground who could guide us to well-known behaviours, reliable aggregations of animals and habitats we could reach as part of coordinated shoots in regional areas. We then had several DOPs we were working with in different areas, so we didn’t miss seasonal opportunities. 

We edited the series in London but also brought an episode back to Australia for editing. It’s never easy doing international co-productions and this series was no exception.

We learnt a lot of important lessons which will influence the way we do it next time! The track lay and composing were done in London, but the narration record was all done in Australia - with completely different scripts for the BBC and ABC versions. We were determined to ensure the ABC version sounded like it was made by Australians, for Australians, and this was only possible if the scripts became entirely separate entities. 

What's been your biggest learning in making environmental and natural history documentaries?

That it might be hard to measure any good you’re doing - but that we are all chipping away and that’s important. 

The environmental issues we encounter in every habitat can become overwhelming and it’s easy to feel swamped by a sense of inertia and disengagement in the general population, but I also meet so many great people doing great things. Often, they’re really quiet achievers and I am eternally grateful for every one of them. They keep me keeping on! 

What do you think women filmmakers in particular bring to environmental documentary making? 

I don’t think gender determines the kind of film you’re going to make. I think men can make great human tales which are nuanced and sensitive. I think women can make zombie thrillers. Having said that, I work with lots of women and I love the smarts, humour and determination they bring to what we do together. People working in this genre, both men and women, tend to have smaller egos and more curious brains than many other genres of television — which makes the work a whole lot more interesting. 

What are you working on next?

I’ve got a number of projects in train now. I would love to do another big natural history series but it’s going to take time to raise all the cash again. In the meantime, I’m doing social documentary - with a particular focus on women - at the same time as developing a range of natural history projects including blue-chip, presenter led etc. 

Hear from Tosca at EFFA’s Women With Impact Industry Insider session, 4pm Sunday October 27 at State Library of Victoria Village Roadshow Theatrette.

This session was made possible with the support of the Environment and Media Research Program, Monash University School of Media, Film and Journalism.

EFFA INTRODUCES KIDS' AND YOUTH SESSIONS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2019

“I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?” – Greta Thunberg

Following an eye-opening precipitation of kid power at the recent Global Climate Strike in the CBD, children of Melbourne will continue the momentum: learning vital information about the environment through film and hands-on workshops when Environmental Film Festival Australia (EFFA) offers kids’ sessions for the first time. The festival will take place from 24 October to 1 November 2019 at various venues across Melbourne. 

Inspired by young people’s calls for climate justice globally, the festival will deliver events dedicated to fostering kids’ connections with the natural world. Highlights of the kids’ and youth program include:

A screening of the magical Backyard Wilderness 3D (pictured above) will be introduced by wildlife educator Mike Alexander. With the help of a special furry friend, Mike will set the scene for the film’s message: to enjoy the beauty of nature around us, starting with our own backyard. Children will watch in wonder as creatures commonly found in backyards come to life in 3D magic. From the eyes of the creatures themselves, this beautiful film captures the seasonal changes experienced in nests, forest floors and ponds over the course of a year. Taking place at 10 – 11am Saturday 26 October, IMAX Melbourne Museum.

An EFFA Kids: Short Films + Seed Planting Workshop will be delivered by a trained CERES educator, discussing the themes of waste, pollution and land conservation. The carefully curated collection of six short films sensitively explores unsustainable practices, while also celebrating our natural environment and wildlife. Following the screening of the short films, kids can apply their newfound appreciation for nature and enjoy a hands-on seed planting workshop in the Palace Westgarth cinema courtyard. Taking place at 10.30am – 12pm Sunday 27 October, Palace Westgarth Cinemas.

Also screening at this year’s EFFA is youth activist film Youth Unstoppable, to be followed by a Youth Forum led by an organiser of the Melbourne arm of the global school strike. Secondary school students will be inspired by young filmmaker and environmental activist Slater Jewell-Kemker’s documentary on youth activists from around the world, and become empowered to have their say and demand action for the future. Screening at 1 – 3.30pm, Sunday 27 October, Palace Westgarth Cinemas.

EFFA director Brooke Daly says the decision to include sessions for kids and youth was a necessary next step for the festival.

“The next generation is leading the climate movement globally, and EFFA understands our responsibility in fostering young people’s appreciation and knowledge of the natural world,” Brooke says.

“As it’s the first time the festival will include sessions dedicated to kids and youth, we worked with the community to ensure everyone involved has an illuminating experience. We also engaged experts to ensure kids will understand the issues of each session in order to nurture a lasting and reciprocal relationship with the environment.”

The BACKYARD WILDERNESS 3D session was made possible with thanks to IMAX Melbourne, and the EFFA KIDS: SHORT FILMS and YOUTH FORUM sessions are thanks to the support of City of Darebin.

EFFA 2019 will screen at Cinema Nova, Palace Westgarth Cinemas, IMAX Melbourne and RMIT’s Kaleide Theatre, with Industry Insider Sessions held at State Library Victoria. EFFA 2019 runs from 24 October – 1 November 2019. For full program and ticketing information: effa.org.au

Thanks to all EFFA 2019 partners for their generous supporting in making this year’s festival possible, including major partner, Bank Australia, government partner, City of Darebin, and supporting partner Monash University.

For media enquiries, please contact Zilla & Brook Publicity: 
Jasmin Hyde: jasmin@zillaandbrook.com.au | 03 9690 7000 

‘THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PEOPLE ON THE GROUND’ - IN CONVERSATION WITH CONSERVATIONIST JIM THOMAS & DIRECTOR MARK HANLIN

Direct from the jungle of Papua New Guinea, conservationist Jim Thomas, as well as Director Mark Hanlin, spoke to EFFA about the hope for humankind they found in the mountains ahead of the EFFA 2019 closing night screening of their documentary Into the Jungle.

Speaking with Conservationist Jim Thomas

Why was the Tenkile, a little-known tree kangaroo, so important for you to save from extinction?

The Tenkile became known to me in 1995, just after Tim Flannery described the animal and had released his second edition of the ‘Mammals of New Guinea’ – which included his recent discoveries and description of the Tenkile and Weimang tree kangaroos. I was working at Melbourne Zoo at the time and the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos there had just bred. There was a joey in the females’ pouch & this event created much interest amongst the staff. Many of the keepers, myself included, gathered and read all that was then known about tree kangaroos. I was drawn to the plight of the Tenkile and Weimang tree kangaroos – because they were both new to science and literature & were both on the brink of extinction. Tim had discovered two new species of tree kangaroos, living in the Torricelli Mountain Range, Papua New Guinea (PNG), but both were critically endangered and had been hunted to the brink of extinction. His conclusions were that both would be gone soon and that he had recorded them as they were leaving. I became more & more drawn to these tree kangaroos, growing a determination to save them.

How did your understanding of the natural environment change after living with tribes in the Torricelli Mountains?

My knowledge of the natural world and living with the villages in the Torricelli’s gave me hope for people and the planet in general. The culture and traditional values of the people are still here, and Papua New Guinean’s are still truly connected to their land and the environment – people are happy, despite having very little. Seeing this first-hand gave me greater perspective, showing me how disconnected the West really is and how most people could change for the betterment of themselves and the planet.

In order to save the Tenkile you introduced those living in the Torricelli mountains to alternative food sources, worked with them to better protect and manage their environment, and helped provide clean water and sanitation. Do you think that a more holistic approach to all conservation is necessary to prevent species loss?

Yes, I think a more holistic and bottom-up approach is required for conservation world-wide. By empowering, training and employing land-owners and communities, people living on the land, real biodiversity protection and restoration can be achieved.

What implications may your work with the Tenkile have on other species throughout the world?

The work Jean and I have been doing with our staff and 50 villages, protecting the Torricelli Mountain Range – over 185,000 hectares containing beautiful tree kangaroos - since 2003 is a solid model for conservation and for other species around the globe. Our model has been replicated by other groups in Melanesia and the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) is respected worldwide. I hope that our work and results inspire other conservationists to do the same. The world needs more people on the ground doing what we do. Flag waving, campaigning and petitions are important but are probably only one-tenth of what is required to save the remaining lungs, tropical rainforests, of the planet and have any chance of restoring and re-building them.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for others thinking of starting conservation projects - big or small? 

I hope that Into the Jungle gives people the confidence to do what we have done and perhaps become candidates to take over from Jean and myself in PNG with the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA). My advice to conservationists is to live your dreams, cling onto hope and never give up.

How many Tenkile tree kangaroos are expected to be living in the Torricelli mountains now, as a result of your work?

Back in the 1990’s Tim Flannery estimated the population of Tenkile to be less than 100. In 2003 we established seven research sites within the determined distribution of the animal. Conducting point transect Distance Sampling (or scat counts), we soon thought that the Tenkile numbers were increasing. By 2013 our results indicated that the Tenkile population was great than 300. As of 2019, we think the number is higher than this, having a Tenkile being located near a village, outside the Conservation Area. This village has no living memory of the Tenkile being on their land. This was a real eye-opening moment for everyone at TCA.

What do you hope people will take away from seeing Into the Jungle and the Q & A afterwards?

I hope that people will take away ‘a want to do more for the planet’ from seeing Into the Jungle. I hope that people will become more connected to our environment and get behind projects like ours. I hope that people in Australia will become donors to TCA – as we are established as a Charity here. Please visit our website www.tenkile.com, join us on Facebook and Twitter @Tenkile and join the team.

What’s your next project?

Our next project will be REDD – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation & Degradation.


In conversation with Director Mark Hanlin

How did you first hear about Jim and Jean’s expedition and what made you want to create the documentary?

I met Jim 20 years ago but lost contact until he called me out of the blue and told me about the conservation work that he and Jean had been doing in PNG. It sounded intriguing so I made the trip up there and just thought this was a fantastic story and one people wouldn’t usually hear about. I intended to make a short film but the longer I was there, the more I thought the story deserved a feature length timeframe. 

What was your process for ensuring the Torricelli Mountain tribes depicted in the film were adequately represented?

Getting to know the locals and their stories was an integral part of developing a balanced narrative. Filming this documentary took four separate visits to PNG over 4 years and I spent a total of 6 months filming at TCA base in Lumi and in the villages. During those visits I met many villagers and filmed their lifestyle but ultimately it was mainly the project officers that worked with Jim and Jean who were the most articulate interviewees on camera. They distilled the sentiments of villagers that I believed an audience could best understand and appreciate. 

How do the tributes from Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall featured in Into the Jungle reinforce the message of the film?

With over 100 years’ experience in conservation work between them, both Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall recognise the unique work that Jim and Jean have developed over a long period of time which is a key factor to their success working with the PNG indigenous communities. We are extremely fortunate that people with such insight and perseverance in their own work agreed to be part of our story and that their interest alone generates a good deal of attention around the world. 

Hear firsthand from Jim and Jean Thomas as they return to Melbourne for this very special screening of Into the Jungle and following discussion, 6.45pm Friday 1 November at Palace Westgarth Cinema.

This session was made possible with the support of City of Darebin.

‘BEYOND THE DOOM AND GLOOM’ – A CHAT WITH CANADIAN FILMMAKER, GRANT BALDWIN

Ahead of his attendance at EFFA 2019 for a ‘Meet the Maker’ session for his new film, and an Industry Insider session, we chat with Canadian filmmaker Grant Baldwin about exploring your physical limits, using drones and the power of humour in creating environmental documentaries!

Why do you think documentaries are a particularly influential medium for generating environmental awareness and behavioural change, and what direction do you see environmental documentaries taking in the future, given the current state of the world around us?

 Documentarians spend years crafting a film to bring a message or issue to the forefront. The audience only needs to spend 90 minutes in a chair to be entertained while absorbing new information. I suppose the medium’s efficiency and ability to stir emotion explains why it’s perhaps the best influence on positive messaging. Documentaries work on me! 

Your documentaries The Clean Bin Project and Just Eat It: A Food Waste Storypositively influenced people around the world to reduce their garbage and food waste respectively. Why do you think these documentaries generated such an impact, and have you managed to maintain your own commitment to reducing waste, as was the premise of these films?  

I think those films hit home for people because they actually felt like they could take personal action based on films’ messaging. The tone in both wasn’t all doom and gloom, and there is some humour, mostly at my expense! :(  

How did you become involved in your new film, This Mountain Life, and how did the challenges that Martina and Tania Halik encounter on their 2,300-kilometre journey through British Columbia help shape the film?

I emigrated from England to Canada when I was young, and the mountains have shaped my life. This Mountain Life is a love letter to BC mountains in a way. Martina and Tania are the second team ever to attempt the Coast Mountain Traverse. Using the maps from the first team who completed this trek in 2002, Martina and Tania tried to repeat the path, but the glaciers had changed so much in that time they had to route plan on the fly. This and the low snowpack in the north that year made things nearly impossible.

This Mountain Lifesees you encounter many different people - a retreat of nuns seeking to be closer to God, a snow artist, an alpinist, and a couple living off the grid - all bound by their connection to place, nature and mountain. Did you pre-plan who you would interview, or did you discover these people and adapt along the way? 

I wanted to show diversity in the mountains. 

We reached out to the mountain community by word of mouth to find everyone.  It wasn’t hours scouring the internet, it was an organic experience. The characters all seem to have one thing in common. They thrive and find comfort in a place where most would feel it’s inhospitable. 

A highlight of This Mountain Life is its stunning cinematography. Do you believe contemporary technologies in film, such as drones, have enabled environmental filmmakers to create a more visceral experience for audiences by visually showing them the ‘whole picture’?

Drones are an amazing tool. We carried two kinds with us depending on the terrain; a big one for the flatter sections, and a tiny one for the technical spots. They were a way for us to show scale.  The shots don’t always have to be moving, instead our characters would move through the frame. We used them holding position, like a tripod in the sky.  I think they are a tool to use sparingly. If you use many drone shots back-to-back, you lose the impactful image you began with. 

A large portion of filming in backcountry mountains is undertaken to advertise snow brands and often only reaches snow sports enthusiasts. Did this genre impact your approach towards making This Mountain Life?

I’ve worked in promoting skiing and outdoor clothes while filming professional skiing, I’ve been able to travel to amazing places and meet incredible people. This Mountain Life isn’t a thing like that work. I chose to film those who would never be picked to promote a ski brand. I wanted those diverse characters to get a chance to share their story. $0 came from any brands, this was a public broadcaster production and I’m so proud of that. This is a movie for people who don’t usually watch mountain movies.

You wear many hats - cinematographer, writer, director, editor and composer - in your filmmaking process. What are the challenges and opportunities of such a multidisciplinary approach?

Time - you can’t be in two places at once! Our films just take longer to make. The advantage is you have nobody to blame if things go sideways - you power through it.

You’ve also worked on the BBC’s iconic series, Planet Earth. What’s been the most life-changing footage you’ve ever captured?

 I can’t say yet, as BBC’s 7 Worlds comes out this Christmas. We filmed some behaviour of polar bears never captured before. Can’t wait to hear David Attenborough’s narration over it. ;)

In addition to speaking at EFFA’s ‘Meet the Maker’ Q&A after our screening of This Mountain Life, you’re also presenting at our Industry Insider session. What are you looking forward to sharing with EFFA’s industry audience and documentary fans alike?

 I like to talk about how small we are as a production team, myself and my partner Jenny Rustemeyer (producer) - how we have made mistakes, and how we have learned and moved on together. I have some fun stories to share. ;) 

What’s the main message you want audiences to take away after watching This Mountain Life?
No matter your age or gender, what you think your personal physical and mental limits are, they are most likely not. Breaking past that threshold is liberating. Get out there.

What’s your next project?

We are completing a five-part TV series on Canada’s busiest 100% volunteer mountain search and rescue, North Shore Rescue.

We went on every call out for one year. It was a rollercoaster of emotions.

Hear from Grant firsthand at EFFA’s screening of This Mountain Life, 6.15pm Tuesday 29 October at Cinema Nova, and at our Industry Insider session, Shoot, Score and Edit with Impact – In Conversation with Grant Baldwin, State Library Victoria, 2.30pm Sunday 27 October.

These sessions and Grant’s attendance at EFFA were made possible with the support of the High Commission of Canada.